U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson was in Baltimore on Wednesday, where he defended President Trump’s controversial comments about the Maryland city amid an uproar of criticism from leaders in the state.
Carson, who before taking his post in the Trump administration practiced at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, said that the city has problems that “you can’t sweep under the rug.”
“It’s sort of like a patient who has cancer: you can dress them up and put a nice suit on and try to ignore it, but that cancer is going to have a devastating effect,” Carson said while speaking outside Hollins House, a federally-funded housing complex for senior citizens in the district of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “You have to be willing to address that issue if you are ever going to solve it.”
Carson, the highest ranking African-American in the Trump administration, did not offer any new policy announcements, but boasted of tax incentive pushes by the White House to help economically disadvantaged areas. The HUD secretary also defended the strides the city has made since he first visited in the 1970s, but added that there is still work to be done.
“The president’s emphasis is on the people and that certainly is my emphasis,” Carson said. “We have to learn to work together and realize we’re not each other’s enemy.”
On Saturday, Trump issued the controversial tweets in which he slammed Cummings’ district as a “rodent infested mess” and a place where “no human being would want to live.” He added that Baltimore was a “very dangerous & filthy place.”
Cummings replied directly to Trump on Twitter, saying, "Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents."
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young also fired back at Trump after his attacks, saying he is a "disappointment to the people of Baltimore, our country, and to the world."
"It's completely unacceptable for the political leader of our country to denigrate a vibrant American City like Baltimore, and to viciously attack U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a patriot and a hero," Young said in a statement.
A spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, defended the area and its residents. In an email, Michael Ricci wrote, "Baltimore City is truly the very heart of our state, and more attacks between politicians aren't going to get us anywhere."
Cummings' district is about 55 percent black and includes a large portion of Baltimore. It is home to the national headquarters of the NAACP and Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The city has struggled with violent crime, with more than 300 homicides for four years in a row. It has crumbling infrastructure and a police department under federal oversight.
Earlier this month, the president drew bipartisan condemnation following his call for four Democratic congresswomen of color to get out of the U.S. "right now," saying if the lawmakers "hate our country," they can go back to their "broken and crime-infested" countries, fix things and return.
His comments were directed at Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. The Democratic-led U.S. House voted largely along party lines to condemn his "racist comments."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.