President Donald Trump addressed the House Republican Conference Member Retreat dinner in Baltimore Thursday evening – his first time visiting the city since he called it a “rat and rodent infested mess.”
Trump tweeted his comments in July, specifically referring to Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings’ district, which includes parts of Baltimore, as a place where “no human being would want to live.”
Trump began his speech Thursday as the same time the Democratic presidential lineup took the stage in Texas for their debate, promising fellow Republicans a new, “substantial” tax cut for middle income Americans next year and teasing new administration standards that “will save thousands and thousands … of dollars per car.”
“We’re working on a tax cut for the middle income people that is going to be very, very inspirational, it’s going to be something that I think everyone is looking for,” Trump said.
Trump also claimed that “toxic waste” energy efficient light bulbs make him look orange – one in a series of bizarre claims about green energy and climate conservation in remarks during the remarks. His administration last week lifted energy efficiency regulations for several common types of bulbs.
“The bulb that we’re being forced to use, number one, to me, most importantly, the light’s no good. I always look orange!” he said, to laughs from the audience. “And so do you. The light is the worst.”
The President briefly mentioned Baltimore toward the end of his speech to Republicans, blaming Democrats for decay in inner cities across the country.
“We’re going to fight for the future of cities like Baltimore that have been destroyed by decades of failed and corrupt rule,” Trump said.
In his concluding remarks, Trump also addressed homelessness in inner cities, saying that his administration gave California notice earlier Thursday, adding, “We’re going to have to step in and do something about it.
“These are our great American cities and they’re an embarrassment, what the Democrats have let happen,” he continued.
When asked what his message is to the people of Baltimore, Trump said ahead of his speech that he looked “forward” to going to the city, but did not address the question further, instead turning attention to the Republican Party.
“I look forward to it. We’re going to be with Republican congressmen and I think it’s gonna be a very successful evening. We had a tremendous election on Tuesday,” the President said ahead of his departure from the White House Thursday evening.
Trump’s previous comments about Baltimore being unlivable sparked a weeks-long back-and-forth between Trump and Cummings, who oversees multiple investigations of Trump and top administration officials as House Oversight chairman.
But Trump’s White House staff and his campaign staff have all continued to defend what the President has said about the city. And in late July, Trump said he doesn’t regret criticizing politicians’ handling of the Baltimore and denied assertions that his critiques were racist.
Cummings told CNN’s Manu Raju that he hopes Trump enjoys his time in the city.
“I hope he has a pleasant visit. I hope he gets a chance to see quite a bit of Baltimore. It’s a beautiful city – a lot of hard working people,” Cummings said Thursday.
When Trump arrived at the retreat just outside of Cummings’ district in Baltimore, he was met by demonstrators protesting his policies at a park a block away from his speaking venue.
A group calling itself the Baltimore Welcoming Committee, which says its composed of a coalition that includes Democratic Socialists of America and immigrants rights groups among others, is scheduled to assemble in the park in the late afternoon and stay through Trump’s arrival at the dinner. The coalition is also scheduled to stage different events countering the retreat through Sunday, when the retreat ends.
It’s common for the President to give remarks at their party’s annual congressional retreat, and last year, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both spoke at the GOP gathering in West Virginia.
The theme of Trump’s remarks this year are unclear, but last year, Trump focused on telling members of his party that they’d either have to compromise or win more seats in 2018 in order to reach a deal on immigration. One topic that will surely be broached during the retreat is how House Republicans will recapture a majority.
Since Republicans lost the House in 2018, a growing number of House Democrats have called for a presidential impeachment inquiry and Trump and his administration have been ensnared in more than a dozen investigations led by House Democrats.
Just days before Trump’s rodent tweet, Cummings’ panel approved subpoenas for work-related texts and emails on White House officials’ personal devices, putting Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump in the committee’s sights. Trump has told people he believes his children, who are also government employees, are being unfairly targeted.
After the tweets criticizing the state of Baltimore, Trump called for Cummings to use the resources of the House Oversight Committee to investigate Baltimore’s corruption.
“Billions and billions of dollars have been given to Baltimore. It’s been misspent, it’s been missing, it’s been stolen with a lot of corrupt government. And as you know Cummings has been in charge,” Trump said in late July, “Now, I will say this, I think that Representative Cummings should take his Oversight Committee and start doing oversight on Baltimore.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.
CNN’s Allie Malloy, Nikki Carvajal, Chandelis Duster and Manu Raju contributed to this report.