Reporter's Notebook: Trump, Cummings, Pelosi and the Battle of Baltimore

We know what President Trump thinks of Baltimore and its Congressman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

Heretofore, Trump has refrained from challenging legendary Baltimore figures like Babe Ruth, Tom Clancy and Edgar Allan Poe.

The Bambino and Clancy were born in Baltimore. Poe lived, wrote and died in the Charm City. One can visit the Poe House and Museum on North Amity Street in Baltimore or Poe’s grave at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground downtown. For three-quarters of a century, a figure dressed in a dark trench coat would creep into the graveyard after midnight on Poe's birthday. The mystery man would leave a half-consumed bottle of cognac and three roses at Poe’s gravesite. Onlookers would take up positions behind gravestones to observe the shadowy ritual.

Poe was the master of the macabre. Poe understood how precise language on the printed page could petrify a reader reclining in their safety of an armchair at home, sipping a spot of tea.

We don't need Poe to scare us these days. We have Twitter.

Despite the president’s scorn for Baltimore, he has yet to take issue with the city's most prominent daughter: Nancy D'Alesandro.

As in House Speaker Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi, D-Calif.

Pelosi has lived for decades in San Francisco, another American city with which the President has nothing but contempt. But Pelosi is quintessential Baltimore.

Pelosi grew up in a row house near the corner of Albemarle and Fawn Streets in Baltimore's Little Italy neighborhood. Shortly after becoming the first female Speaker, Baltimore named a street after Pelosi: Via Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi.

Pelosi’s father, Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., represented Baltimore for four terms in Congress and was the city's mayor for 12 years. Pelosi’s brother, Tommy D’Alesandro III, also served a term as mayor of Baltimore. In fact, some attribute the presence of Major League Baseball in Baltimore to Pelosi’s father. As mayor, the elder D’Alesandro pushed for construction of Memorial Stadium, the presence of which coaxed the St. Louis Browns to move east and become the Baltimore Orioles beginning in 1954.

Pelosi returned to Capitol Hill this week after leading a Congressional delegation to Ghana and speaking before that country's parliament. Pelosi met briefly with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and prepped the recently approved spending caps/debt ceiling package to send to Trump to sign. And for the first time, Pelosi was asked to address the president’s broadsides fired at her hometown.

The Speaker said she had just been in Baltimore a few days before the trip to Ghana, describing the city as "a source of great pride."

And then Pelosi pulled no punches.


"To see the president demean a great leader like Elijah Cummings shows his own insecurity and his own lack of understanding about what progress really is," said Pelosi. She added that people "have to consider the source" when it comes to Trump’s tongue-lashing of Baltimore.

And then the Speaker fired this Sidewinder missile: "The President, this comes as no surprise, really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But maybe you could ask his son-in-law, who’s a slumlord there, if he wants to talk about rodent infestation."

President Trump’s son-in-law is Jared Kushner, married to Trump's daughter Ivanka. Kushner’s family owns rental units in Baltimore County and have faced multiple code violations.

The House of Representatives was in recess this week. However, the Senate remained in session. And once President Trump lit up Cummings and Baltimore, everyone knew reporters would try to get lawmakers on the record about the latest outburst.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. took a position common for Republicans asked about Trump’s comportment: saying they were uncomfortable with such talk - but not outright rebuking it.

"[Trump] ran with this personality and these tactics,” said Cramer. “We have the same President with the same characteristics as when he was a candidate."

Rural Kentucky may not suffer from the same urban blight as Baltimore. But there are similar problems in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"There are parts of your state which have significant opioid problems. Meth. Lack of economic opportunity. Education problems, Menifee County. Bath County. Logan County. What if President Trump were to call out those counties, as he did with Baltimore?" this reporter asked McConnell.

McConnell replied that those regions “certainly do have challenges.” He suggested that they’ve made a little progress” with drugs, noting that overdose deaths dropped “15 percent last year.”

But McConnell sidestepped the question about what would happen if Mr. Trump were to criticize some of those regions in Kentucky beset by similar challenges to inner-city Baltimore.

That’s usually what happens on Capitol Hill now: Democrats work themselves into a lather while Republicans mildly chide the President or duck the question altogether.

We learned Thursday that a burglar tried to get into a property owned by Elijah Cummings at 3:40 a.m. July 27. Fox is told the break-in occurred at a portion of the property which is rented out by Cummings. In a statement, the lawmaker said his “security system” alerted him to the trespasser and added: "I scared the intruder away by yelling."


Naturally, people began pinning the attempted break-in on the president’s tweets directed at Cummings. However, colleague David Spunt noted that President Trump never sent any tweets about Cummings until 7:14 the same morning.

One source with knowledge of the investigation said there was "no skullduggery." In other words, the break-in had nothing to do with Cummings' newly elevated profile.

On Friday morning, the president seemed to revel in the schadenfreude of Cummings’ misfortune.

“Really bad news,” tweeted Trump. “The Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad!”

To Trump, the attempted robbery proved his point: Baltimore is riddled with crime and the break-in couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

“What the President said about Baltimore is outrageous,” thundered Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. "Baltimore is a great society. Great people. Great neighborhoods. Great institutions like Johns Hopkins. The University of Maryland medical system. It is the home of Fort McHenry."


Fort McHenry.

That’s where the Battle of Baltimore unfolded. Francis Scott Key isn't a native Baltimore son; he hailed from nearby Frederick, Md. But Key penned "The Star-Spangled Banner" after watching the British bombard ships in Baltimore Harbor.

President Trump waged a contemporary "Battle of Baltimore" with Cummings and the Charm City of late. But one of the nation’s most enduring symbols wouldn’t exist without Baltimore.