DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This morning, President Trump doubled down on his recent incendiary tweets about Baltimore City and about Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings who chairs the House Oversight Committee. The president spoke a short while ago as he was leaving the White House.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Those people are living in hell in Baltimore. They're largely African American. You have a large African American population. And they really appreciate what I'm doing, and they've let me know it.
GREENE: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe is at the White House and joins me now to talk about this. Good morning, Ayesha.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So the president, we should say, has faced a whole lot of criticism for his comments on Twitter on these subjects, including from a Republican - the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan. So how did he respond to that criticism this morning?
RASCOE: Well, President Trump's pretty much rejected all of the criticism, and he claimed that African Americans have been calling the White House in large numbers at one point, and that residents of Baltimore had been calling the White House, he said, in the thousands, and that they were very happy with what he was saying.
He repeatedly said that there had been all of this corruption in Baltimore, and that all of this federal money had been taken and misused. And he said that he felt like that's what Elijah Cummings should be dealing with. Here's more of what he said about that.
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TRUMP: What Elijah Cummings should do is he should take this oversight committee, bring them down to Baltimore, and invest all of the - and really study the billions and billions of dollars that's been stolen.
RASCOE: Now he offered no evidence of money being stolen or why he was saying that money had been stolen. And so he had - and he also offered no evidence that all these people have been calling and or - so he didn't offer anything to back that up.
But that does get to the point that Cummings is leading all of these investigations into the Trump administration and their conduct. And part of this seems to be that President Trump is not really happy with the oversight that Cummings is conducting.
GREENE: Well, there's also the timing of this - right? - and some questions about the politics here. I mean, this comes as the Democratic 2020 candidates are getting ready to take the stage tonight for another round of debates. Is - I mean, is this the president just continuing to try and claim the narrative and claim the airwaves?
RASCOE: He's definitely getting on the airways by saying these sorts of things about Baltimore's - you know, that quote about saying that people are living in hell. By using that type of imagery, he is forcing people to look at him, to talk about him and to talk about what he's saying.
And sure, when you have these Democrats on the stage these next two nights, that might be less attention on him. So this is a way for him to make sure that he is being talked about and that maybe that he's driving the conversation because the Democrats will have to talk about this.
And he did go after Joe Biden a bit today, saying that he had lost a step. And so he's using this to kind of further that aim.
GREENE: And we should say he also defended his pick for director of national intelligence, current Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe, this morning.
RASCOE: Yeah, he said that he's a brilliant man. And he also said that he picked him before the Mueller hearing, or that he had talked to him about this position before the Mueller hearing, so kind of trying to disconnect it from that.
GREENE: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe at the White House this morning. Ayesha, thanks as always.
RASCOE: Thank you.
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