Is Trump’s Racially Charged Rhetoric Part of His 2020 Election Strategy?

Updated Aug. 6, 1:15PM

WASHINGTON — The mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday has again highlighted concerns over President Donald Trump’s use of racially divisive language about immigrants and minorities.

The white suspect in the case, identified as Patrick Crusius, reportedly wrote an anti-immigrant manifesto before targeting Hispanic shoppers in a district near the Mexican border. At least 20 were killed by the shooter.

Fueling tensions

The governor of Texas called the mass shooting a hate crime and the U.S. Attorney in Texas is investigating it as a possible case of domestic terrorism.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman who represented El Paso, is among a number of critics accusing President Donald Trump of fueling racial tensions that escalated into deadly violence.

“The president’s language, his rhetoric has produced the kinds of hate crimes that we saw in El Paso yesterday, but we’ve been seeing across this country — they’ve been on the rise for each one of the last three years,” said O’Rourke.

FILE – Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, along with student activists, demonstrate against gun violence outside the White House, after the El Paso, Texas Walmart deadly shooting, Aug. 3, 2019.

In 2016, then-candidate Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. As president, he has shied from denouncing some white supremacist groups, declaring that a 2017 white supremacist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Virginia drew “fine people” on both sides. The event turned deadly when a rally participant drove a car into a group of counter-demonstrators, killing one and injuring many more.

However Trump’s acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, argued in a Sunday TV interview that it is unfair to blame the president for the actions of “sick” individuals.

“This was a sick person. The person in Dayton was a sick person. No politician is to blame for that. The people responsible here are the people who pulled the trigger,” he said.

Mulvaney also maintained that Trump has condemned white nationalism, something he did again in public remarks Monday. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” Trump said in an abrupt pivot from other recent remarks denigrating immigrants and minorities.

Candles burn as part of a memorial at the scene of Sunday morning’s mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 5, 2019.

Driving coverage

Political analysts see the president’s pattern of racially charged rhetoric as part instinct and part strategy to win re-election in 2020. 

“I think he knows his supporters like to see him fight. And if you can fight with Democrats who are in the opposition that that only helps him politically from his perspective,” said Alex Conant, who worked on Senator’s Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign and is now a media consultant with Firehouse Strategies.

The president recently has been driving media coverage by engaging in attacks against minority lawmakers. 

He singled out Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, calling his majority black district in the city of Baltimore, “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Trump’s attack came after Cummings, the powerful chairman of the House Oversight Committee, denounced overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at migrant detention facilities near the border, which the president claimed were “clean” and “well run.”  

The House Oversight Committee is also investigating the White House for potential misconduct and has authorized subpoenas to seize emails and text messages from first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, both advisers to the president.

Trump also continues to denounce a group of minority Democratic congresswoman as radical leftists. The group, known as the “squad,” include two Muslim Americans Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both vocal critics of Israel, a key U.S. ally, Hispanic American Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a self-described socialist, and African American Ayanna Pressley, who has called for impeachment proceedings against the president. Trump, in a Tweet, told the group to “go back” to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came” — even though only Omar is not American born.

From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump.

Opponents see Trump’s high profile and controversial disputes as a strategic way to energize his base of disaffected white, working class voters, and to keep the nation’s attention focused on himself ahead of next year’s election.

“The strategic part of it is that he’s dominating the discourse. He’s getting people fired up about things that concern him. They’re not focused on his manifest failings as a president,” said John Halpin, a Democratic political analyst at the Center for American Progress.

Divided Democrats

To defeat Trump in 2020, Halpin says, Democrats need to focus first on economic issues, still-stagnant working class wages and increasing medical costs.  Halpin said Democrats could seize issues like Trump’s trade war with China, which cut U.S. agricultural exports, to highlight the gulf between the president’s record and his populist rhetoric. 

For their part, Democratic presidential candidates are divided over whether to push for moderate or transformational economic change. Progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are proposing that the government pay entirely for heath care and provide free college education to all. Both acknowledge that substantial tax hikes would be required to pay for such expansive programs.

Trump and Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to position the president as a moderate alternative to far-leftwing Democrats and to focus the election debate on the U.S. economy, which grew 3% last year, the tenth consecutive year of expansion.

“He would certainly like to have, you know, October of 2020 have people thinking about this caricature of the Democratic Party versus him as the standard bearer, the only person between you and radicalism,” said Halpin.

FILE – Democratic presidential candidates raise their hands during the Democratic primary debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019.

Wavering moderates

Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating remains high at 72%, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll.

Trump’s base, which includes anti-immigration activists, strongly backs his tough polices to deter immigration at the border, ban travel from several majority-Muslim countries, and to reinstate capital punishment at the federal level.

At the same time, analysts note that the president’s penchant to inflame racial tensions, combined with reports of inhumane treatment of migrants in U.S. custody, may weaken moderate Republican support.   

“If this becomes a referendum on Trump and his temperament, he does risk losing some of those particularly really suburban Republicans, in some cases women voters, who might like a lot of his policies but just don’t like his tweets,” said Conant.  

President Trump narrowly won the 2016 election in part by winning over white, working class people in key industrial states, a long-standing Democratic constituency. In the 2018 midterm elections, however, Trump’s sinking approval ratings among independents helped Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives.

Exacerbating America’s racial and ethnic divides may have helped propel Trump in 2016. Whether it helps or hurts his re-election bid in 2020 remains to be seen.



After Shootings, Congress Again Weighs Gun Violence Response

Newtown. Charleston. Orlando. Parkland.

And now after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Congress again is confronted with the question of what, if anything, lawmakers should do to combat the scourge of gun violence afflicting the country.

While both parties are calling for action, the retreat to familiar political corners was swift. Democrats demanded quick approval of gun-control legislation — some of it already passed by the House — while Republicans looked elsewhere for answers, focusing on mental health and violent video games.

With Congress away from Washington for a five-week recess, and the parties intractably divided, the odds appear stacked in favor of gridlock. But Democrats and some Republicans said this time can and should be different.

“While no law will end mass shootings entirely, it’s time for Congress to act to help keep our communities safer,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., as he vowed to again push bipartisan legislation to expand background checks to all commercial firearm sales.

Toomey and his co-sponsor, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., each spoke with President Donald Trump about the background checks bill and a separate proposal making it easier to take guns away from people believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

Trump “showed a willingness to work with us” on background checks and other measures, Toomey told reporters in a conference call. “He was very constructive.”

FILE – Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., right, accompanied by Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., announce that they have reached a bipartisan deal on expanding background checks to more gun buyers, April 10, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Toomey and Manchin have tried to pass a background check bill since 2013, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting, and could not even muster a Senate vote last year.

Manchin called mass shootings and other gun violence “tragic American problems,” and said it was “past time for Congress to take action.”

Other Democrats put the burden on Trump, saying he should demand Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put a House-passed bill strengthening background checks up for a vote.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate GOP leader is blocking gun safety reforms that more than 90% of Americans support. He and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said McConnell, R-Ky., should call the Senate into emergency session to take immediate action on the House-passed bill, which would require federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, including those sold online or at gun shows. Another bill allows an expanded 10-day review for gun purchases.

The House approved the bills in February but they have not come up for consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate.

FILE – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 11, 2019.

On a conference call Monday, Pelosi told Democratic lawmakers they have a “golden opportunity to save lives” by pressuring Trump and McConnell to act, according to a Democratic aide who was granted anonymity to discuss the private session.

“The House stands ready to return to pass legislation, if the Senate sends us back an amended bipartisan bill or if other legislation is ready for House action,” Pelosi said later in a letter to colleagues.

“Senate Republicans are prepared to do our part,” McConnell said in a statement Monday. He spoke with GOP committee leaders including Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and encouraged them to look for bipartisan solutions “to protect our communities without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights,” McConnell said.

In a brief White House speech, Trump condemned the weekend shootings in Texas and Ohio that left 31 people dead as barbaric crimes “against all humanity” and called for bipartisan cooperation to respond to an epidemic of gun violence. He signaled opposition to large-scale gun control efforts, saying, “hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

“We vow to act with urgent resolve,” Trump said.

President Donald Trump speaks about the shootings in El Paso and Dayton as Vice President Mike Pence looks on in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, Aug. 5, 2019.

Trump offered a slightly different message earlier in the day, tweeting that “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!”

It was not clear how or why he was connecting the issues.

Trump’s omission of background checks in his White House remarks showed he was already backing away from his morning tweet, Democrats said.

“It took less than three hours for the president to back off his call for stronger background check legislation,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement. “When he can’t talk about guns when he talks about gun violence, it shows the president remains prisoner to the gun lobby,” especially the National Rifle Association.

Congress has proven unable to pass substantial gun violence legislation, despite the frequency of mass shootings, in large part because of resistance from Republicans, particularly in the GOP-controlled Senate.

But in a show of bipartisanship, Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., announced an agreement to create a federal grant program to help states that adopt “red flag” protection order laws to take guns away from people believed to be a danger to themselves or others. A similar bill did not come up for a vote in the Senate last year.

The grants would enlist mental health professionals to help determine which cases need to be acted on, Graham said, adding that while the program allows for quick action, it requires judicial review.

Trump signaled openness to red-flag laws in his White House speech, saying, “We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do those firearms can be taken through rapid due process.”

In a statement, the NRA offered “deepest sympathies” to the families and victims and said it is “committed to the safe and lawful use of firearms” by gun owners.

“We will not participate in the politicizing of these tragedies but, as always, we will work in good faith to pursue real solutions that protect us all from people who commit these horrific acts,” the NRA said.

A spokesman for Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the panel is planning to hold hearings on domestic terrorism when lawmakers return next month.



Factbox: Last US Gun Control Legislation

The last time the U.S. government passed a gun control bill was 25 years ago. 

The bill: Federal Assault Weapons Ban

Year passed: 1994

Provisions: It banned the manufacture, transfer or possession of “semiautomatic assault weapons,” defined as military-style assault weapons, including the AR-15.

Effect: A recent study found mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur while the ban was in place. 

Expiration: The ban expired in 2004, as was stipulated in the legislation.

Reintroduction: Several attempts were made to re-enact the ban, including after the 2013 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which killed 26 people, including 20 children. It was never was renewed.  



Are False Assumptions Driving Americans Apart?

The United States might seem more divided than ever, but that could be because Americans have a distorted impression of people with opposing political views.

“Democrats and Republicans overestimate the proportion of people on the other side of the political aisle who hold extreme views by a factor of about two,” says Daniel Yudkin, associate director of research at More in Common.

“So, another way of saying that is that there are about half as many people with extreme views on the other side than Democrats and Republicans think.” 

For example, 87% of Republicans say “properly controlled immigration can be good for America.” But Democrats believe only about half of Republicans would agree with that statement.

And while Republicans think almost half of Democrats believe “most police are bad people,” the reality is that far fewer Democrats, 15%, agree with that supposition.

A recent More in Common report finds that this perception gap is created by extremists in both parties who tend to have the loudest voices, in part because they are extremely active on social and traditional media.

“So, when people are learning and hearing the voices of the people they think are on the other side, they’re actually hearing the voices of the most extreme contingent of those groups,” says Yudkin, a co-author of the report.

“And so, they come to believe that those voices are representative of the people on both sides, when in fact, there’s quite a lot of complexity and nuance that gets missed.”

These false assumptions are detrimental to Americans because the greater the misperceptions, the more people begin to view people on the other side as hateful, brainwashed or ignorant. That negativity makes it difficult for Americans with opposing political views to cooperate on the issues where they do see eye to eye.

“There are a lot of issues that Americans actually agree about,” Yudkin says.

“We agree that we should have a properly controlled immigration system that’s compassionate but also efficient. We agree that racism remains an issue in America right now. Most of Americans believe there’s rampant inequality and that there should be higher taxes on the wealthy, for example. But these shared issues are undermined in the political process when sides come to see the other as the enemy.”

People tend to consume news that reinforces and confirms their biases about people in opposing constituencies, according to the report, which also finds that when conservatives and liberals consume news that runs counter to their own views, they make fewer false or exaggerated assumptions about the other side.

The bottom line is that Americans are less divided than they believe, according to Yudkin, and reducing the perception gap starts with understanding the reality of just how big — or small — that gap actually is.



Trump Vows to ‘Act With Urgent Resolve’ After Latest US Mass Shootings

Updated Aug. 5, 7:03 p.m.

Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.

WHITE HOUSE — Responding to mass shootings in the United States, President Donald Trump is vowing “to act with urgent resolve,” explicitly condemning white supremacy and calling for strong background checks for gun purchases. 

But Trump is not advocating major gun control legislation, disappointing advocates who favor such measures. Nor did he respond to his critics, who say his own heated anti-immigrant rhetoric, especially about Mexicans, contributed to a toxic atmosphere.

Trump made remarks Monday at the White House after a pair of mass shootings 13 hours apart in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Lone gunmen in both cities killed a total of at least 31 people and wounded dozens.

A mourner kneels at a makeshift memorial near members of the media outside the Hole in the Wall bar in the Oregon District in Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 5, 2019.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said, noting hatred expressed in a “manifesto” attributed to the young white man being held as the suspect for Saturday’s shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, a city on the Mexican border. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.”

Trump also said, “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.” 

Visits to El Paso, Dayton

Plans are being made for Trump to visit both El Paso and Dayton this week. He has already postponed a trip he planned to take Tuesday to Florida. 

In his White House remarks Monday, Trump also focused on mental illness, and violence in the media and in video games, warning of “the perils of the internet and social media.”

The president advocated red flag laws to try to identify those who could potentially commit such mass violence and stop them from getting their hands on such weapons. 

Flowers adorn a makeshift memorial near the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 4, 2019.

Trump termed the mass shootings “barbaric slaughter … an assault upon our communities, an attack upon our nation and a crime against all of humanity.” 

Trump spoke for a little less than 10 minutes and did not respond to questions from reporters. 

Congress has only sporadically enacted gun policy changes over the past few decades, in part because of opposition from gun advocates who insist the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans the right to own a weapon.

“It took less than three hours for the president to back off his call for stronger background check legislation. When he can’t mention guns while talking about gun violence, it shows the president remains prisoner to the gun lobby and the NRA (National Rifle Association),” said the two top Democratic Party lawmakers in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a joint statement.

FILE – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, left, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi walk together at the Capitol in Washington, June 20, 2019.

Trump’s Democratic opponents, including several hoping to run against him in next year’s election, have blamed his oft-repeated anti-immigration rhetoric as fostering the hate that contributed to the El Paso mass killing.

‘Mouths of our leaders’

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who also had to confront the scourge of mass shootings, issued a statement saying: “We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments … or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life.”

FILE – Former U.S. President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks during a town hall meeting at the European School For Management And Technology in Berlin, Germany, April 6, 2019.

Former President Obama did not mention any of those leaders by name. Trump has frequently called Mexicans and migrants trying to cross into the United States criminals, rapists, and drug dealers.

Trump, however, blamed a favorite target — the mainstream news media — in an early Monday tweet, prior to his White House speech.

The Media has a big responsibility to life and safety in our Country. Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years. News coverage has got to start being fair, balanced and unbiased, or these terrible problems will only get worse!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2019

The country’s biggest pro-gun rights lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, appeared to agree with Trump that mass gun violence is also a mental health issue, saying, “Those who have been adjudicated as a danger to themselves or others should not have access to firearms and should be admitted for treatment.”

At least 22 people were killed and more than two dozen wounded in the El Paso Walmart attack. Police are investigating it as a possible hate crime. The suspected gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, allegedly wrote a manifesto condemning race mixing. Some reports say he told police he went to Walmart to kill as many Mexicans as possible.

Officials say they will seek the death penalty for the Texas attack, which they are treating as an act of domestic terrorism.

Eight Mexican citizens were among those killed in El Paso. Mexicans frequently cross into the city to shop at Walmart and Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador called on the U.S. Congress to enact stronger gun laws.

“We’re very respectful of what other governments decide … if we look at things objectively, we have to say that the two main U.S. parties have given little attention to gun control,” he said Monday.

Motive sought

Authorities in Dayton are also searching for a motive behind the rampage in the Ohio city’s popular nightlife district early Sunday. The gunman, identified as 24-year-old student Connor Betts, killed nine people, including his sister, and wounded 14 others. 

Mourners attend a vigil at the scene after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 4, 2019

Police shot and killed Betts within 30 seconds, perhaps saving hundreds of lives. They say he was wearing body armor and carrying extra magazines containing up to 250 rounds of ammunition.

Former classmates say he had expressed hostility during his high school years. He allegedly put together a “hit list” of those he wanted to kill and a “rape list” of girls he wanted to attack. He was legally able to buy the weapons and ammunition he used.

The U.S. once banned the sale of assault-type weapons like those employed by the gunmen in El Paso and Dayton, but Congress allowed the law to expire in 2004. 

The Texas and Ohio shootings occurred a week after a gunman killed three people at a food festival in California.

According to monitoring groups, there have been more than 250 mass shootings in the United States this year.



2020 Democrats Back Gun Limits After El Paso Shooting

Democratic presidential candidates expressed outrage Saturday that mass shootings have becoming chillingly common nationwide and blamed the National Rifle Association and its congressional allies after a gunman opened fire at a shopping area near the Texas-Mexico border.

“It’s not just today, it has happened several times this week. It’s happened here in Las Vegas where some lunatic killed 50 some odd people,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said as he and 18 other White House hopefuls were in Nevada to address the nation’s largest public employees union. “All over the world, people are looking at the United States and wondering what is going on? What is the mental health situation in America, where time after time, after time, after time, we’re seeing indescribable horror.”

Sanders blasted Republican Senate leadership for being “more concerned about pleasing the NRA than listening to the vast majority of the American people” and said that President Donald Trump has a responsibility to support commonsense gun safety legislation.

From left, Melody Stout, Hannah Payan, Aaliyah Alba, Sherie Gramlich and Laura Barrios comfort each other during a vigil for victims of the shooting, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.

At least 20 people were killed amid back-to-school shopping in El Paso. A 21-year-old man was taken into custody, law enforcement officials said.

Shortly after the shooting and before its death toll was widely reported, White House officials said Trump was briefed while spending the weekend at his New Jersey golf club. He conveyed his initial reaction on Twitter, writing that the shooting was “terrible” and that he was in close consultation with state officials. He turned to other topics, tweeting a note of encouragement to UFC fighter Colby Covington, a Trump supporter, and retweeting a pair of messages that furthered his recent argument that African Americans had flourished under his administration.

President Trump’s racism does not just offend our sensibilities; it fundamentally changes the character of this country. And it leads to violence. pic.twitter.com/SbuxGneFnh

— Beto O’Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 4, 2019

The shooting was far more personal for former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native who represented the city in Congress for six years. He suspended campaigning to fly home and “be with my family and be with my hometown.”

Earlier, O’Rourke appeared shaken as he told the union forum he’d heard early reports that the shooter might have had a military-style weapon, saying the country needs to “keep that (expletive) on the battlefield. Do not bring it into our communities.”

O’Rourke said the U.S. may require direct action, urgency and in some cases nonviolent civil disobedience, to make real change.

“I believe in this country. I believe, at the end of the day, we’re going to be able to get this done,” he said, “but it’s going to be because of those people who force it to get done.”

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a public employees union candidate forum, Aug. 3, 2019, in Las Vegas.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he tried to call O’Rourke and told reporters, “Enough is enough.”

“This is a sickness,” Biden said. “This is beyond anything that we should be tolerating.” He added: “We can beat the NRA. We can beat the gun manufacturers.”

A visibly frustrated Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said: “I believe that the NRA have long dominated American politics to the point where they have stopped sensible legislation that would have prevented deaths and prevented killings. They have done it time and time again.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN, July 30, 2019, at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, noted: “We are the only country in the world with more guns than people.”

“It has not made us safer,” he said. “We can respect the Second Amendment and not allow it to be a death sentence for thousands of Americans.”

California Sen. Kamala Harris promised to use an executive action within her first 100 days of taking office to impose gun control. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said, “This has got to be a movement, politics or not, we’ve got to make ending this nightmare a movement before it happens to yet another community or another person dies.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted: “Far too many communities have suffered through tragedies like this already. We must act now to end our country’s gun violence epidemic.



Cummings Urges Trump to ‘Come to Baltimore’

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings took the high road Saturday, inviting President Donald Trump and other Americans to visit Baltimore but declining to respond in kind to the barrage of presidential tweets and comments disparaging him and the majority-black city he has long represented.

“We are a great community,” Cummings, the chairman of the powerful House Oversight committee investigating the administration, said in his first public remarks about the controversy as he participated in the midday opening of a small neighborhood park near his home.

Community leaders and residents gathered to cut the ribbon on a pocket of greenery and flowers, built from what had been a vacant lot often used as a dumping ground for trash.

“Come to Baltimore. Do not just criticize us, but come to Baltimore and I promise you, you will be welcomed,” he said.

A boy rides his bicycle, July 29. 2019, after volunteering to paint a mural outside the New Song Community Church in the Sandtown section of Baltimore.

‘President welcome to our district’

Cummings said he doesn’t have time for those who criticize the city where he grew up but wants to hear from people willing to help make the community better. He noted the outpouring of support he has received, thousands of emails, and the presence at the event of leaders from the University of Maryland’s medical center, foundations and businesses. He wore a hat and polo shirt by Under Armour, the popular apparel maker headquartered in Baltimore.

Asked directly by reporters afterward if there would be a meeting with Trump, the congressman said he’d love to see Trump in the city.

“The president is welcome to our district,” he said.

In a weeklong series of attacks, Trump called the Baltimore district a “rat and rodent infested mess” and complained about Cummings, whose district includes key parts of the city.

The president widened his attack on other cities he did not name but complained are run by Democrats. His comments were widely seen as a race-centered attack on big cities with minority populations.

FILE – House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks to members of the media before Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan appears before a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 18, 2019.

Cummings’ comments Saturday came at another pivotal juncture for the administration, as half of House Democrats now say they favor launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. It’s a threshold that pushes renewed focus on the issue, even though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declined to move ahead with proceedings unless there is a greater groundswell, including in public opinion.

Cummings, whose committee is one of the six House committees investigating the Trump administration, said Saturday he was not yet ready to support impeachment.

“There may well come a time when impeachment is appropriate,” he told reporters. But for now, he said, he agrees with Pelosi’s approach and said that his committee would continue its investigations. “I’m trying to be fair to him,” he said. “That’s why we need to do our research.”

An entire block of vacant row houses in West Baltimore, within the 7th Congressional District of Representative Elijah Cummings. (VOA/C. Presutti)

A long-struggling city

Under sunny skies, with a light breeze, the neighborhood situated in a historic part of West Baltimore offered another view of a city that struggled long before Trump’s disparaging tweets, a once-gilded American seaport now confronted with other problems.

Leaders from the community spoke of the region’s historic segregation in housing and how that legacy impacted neighborhoods.

Cummings recounted the city’s famous residents, including the late Thurgood Marshall, a justice of the Supreme Court, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, a noted black scholar who testified recently in Congress on reparations for slavery. The congressman also gave a nod to his own family’s history, his parents arriving from a Southern state, to build a better life for their children, and his ascent from the community to law school and the halls of Congress for two decades.

To residents, especially young people, he said, “Let no one define you.”

A woman enjoys lunch at the Mount Vernon Place Square in the Mount Vernon section of Baltimore, July 29, 2019.

Trying to ‘lift up’ president

Residents said they were heartened by the attention being paid to Baltimore, and they too urged the White House to consider the way the president’s comments may land in a community.

Jackie Cornish, a founder of the Druid Heights community development corporation more than 40 years ago, said she hoped Trump and Cummings could put their collective power together and work for the good of the city. While she feels the president has “disrespected our congressman as well as disrespected our city,” she also said: “We still respect our president. As long as he’s president, we’re trying to lift him up.”

Amos Gaskins, who lives across the street from the park and stepped out to greet Cummings, said the congressman has been through “a lot” and added, “He’s doing a great job, a beautiful job.”

“We’re not what you call a dirty city and a dirty people,” Gaskins said. “Donald Trump shouldn’t have said that. That’s uncalled for.”



US Defense Secretary Wants INF-range Missiles in Asia

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is crisscrossing the Asia-Pacific region on his first international trip as head of the Defense Department. The trip began as the U.S. withdrew from a decades-old arms control pact with Russia, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The withdrawal means Washington and Moscow are free to develop ground-based missiles with a range of 500-5,500km. And that could be bad news for a country that was never even part of the pact–China. Our VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb is traveling with Esper and explains why.

 



Kelly Craft Confirmed as US Ambassador to UN

Kentucky native Kelly Knight Craft will be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations after winning confirmation by a slim majority in the Senate this week. Some Democrats complained about her lack of foreign policy experience going into a senior diplomatic post. VOA’s U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer has more.



Craft Set to Take ‘Sharp Elbows’ to UN

UNITED NATIONS — Kelly Knight Craft will soon head to the United Nations as U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy, where she will have to prove to skeptics that she is up to the task. 

Craft, 57, was confirmed by a slim majority that split along mostly partisan lines in the U.S. Senate earlier this week.

The Kentucky native is married to Joe Craft, a billionaire coal executive, and they are well-known in Republican circles as major donors. In addition to contributing $1 million to Trump’s 2016 campaign, they have also supported several Republican senators.


Kelly Craft Confirmed as US Ambassador to UN video player.
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WATCH: Kelly Craft Confirmed as US Ambassador to UN

As U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Craft will follow in the footsteps of heavyweight diplomats, including Thomas Pickering, Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke, as well as one U.N. ambassador — George H.W. Bush — who went on to become president.  

Envoy to Canada

A businesswoman and philanthropist, Craft had her first serious foray into international diplomacy over the past two years as Trump’s envoy to Canada, where she was part of the effort to get a new North American trade agreement.

At her June confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the ranking Democrat voiced his concerns about her lack of experience.

“The American people need someone with tenacity, experience, and a deep understanding of complexities of global affairs and international institutions; someone who is committed to multilateralism, and reforming and strengthening the U.N., not irreparably damaging it,” Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey said. “I have deep reservations about your lack of qualifications for such a complex and challenging role. Historically, U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. have brought significant executive experience, or experience working directly in foreign policy.”

Republicans were not as concerned.

“I think by any reasonable measure you’re a very qualified person,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Craft. “You’ve been ambassador to Canada. If you’re qualified and not crazy, you usually get my vote. You don’t seem to be crazy at all — other than wanting to come here, maybe.”

Craft assured the committee that she has “sharp elbows” and would not be deterred in speaking up in the face of human rights abuses by allies such as Saudi Arabia, or in confronting adversaries.

“You know, I’m not going there to be Russia’s friend,” Craft said. “They’re not our friend. They undermine us at every opportunity that they have. And you better believe I will keep a clear eye on them and understanding where we can work together, whether it’s North Korea or other areas that we need to call them out on.” 

Absences from job

Democrats also criticized Craft for her substantial absences from her post during her time in Canada — more than half the days she was posted there — and on her family’s connection to the coal industry. Achieving carbon neutrality and slowing global warming are among the U.N.’s top priorities, and Craft assured the senators that she would recuse herself on fossil fuel issues when they come up at the United Nations.

“Craft doesn’t have a strong history in multilateral diplomacy, but that was also true of her predecessor, Nikki Haley,” said Richard Gowan, U.N. director for the International Crisis Group. “I think expectations for Craft are low, but actually she may be able to win friends amongst U.S. allies at the U.N. if she is willing to work in a collegial fashion.”

Gowan noted Craft’s connections with “people who matter” in the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and some Republican senators on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“If she wants to push important policy issues, she does have a lot of people she can call in Washington who will feel obligated to listen to her,” Gowan said.

Craft will not hold Cabinet member rank, like several of her Republican predecessors, such as Haley, and she is unlikely to have as big a policymaking role as Haley.




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