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President Trump speaks at a Republican gathering at the Waterfront Marriott in Harbor East.

Leaving outside protesters who loudly and sometimes profanely rebuked his characterization of Baltimore as “disgusting" and "rodent infested,” President Donald Trump gave a rambling, jokey speech Thursday night to a friendlier crowd of House Republicans gathered at a Harbor East hotel.

Trump’s 68-minute speech was largely a recitation of his accomplishments to a GOP audience that frequently interrupted him with applause in a ballroom of the Marriott Waterfront.

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But toward the end of his speech, he returned to his criticism this summer of Baltimore, laying its problems at the feet of Democrats.

“We’re going to fight for the future of cities like Baltimore that have been destroyed by decades of failed and corrupt rule,” he said.

Citing what he called a “left-wing agenda” of too much regulation and taxation and “unrestricted migration," he went on to decry the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well.

“These are great American cities, and they’re an embarrassment — what the Democrats have let happen,” he said. “Republicans want to rebuild our inner cities and provide a future of limitless opportunity for all Americans.”

Trump’s reference to Democratic responsibility for cities’ woes echoed comments he made during his weeklong attack on Baltimore earlier this summer, when he alleged billions of dollars in federal aid to the city had been “wasted” and “stolen."

City officials disputed that claim, Trump never offered evidence, and the White House responded at that time to questions by offering a list of unrelated city corruption scandals, such as former Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh’s deals to sell her children’s books to a major hospital system and companies that do business with the city.

Before arriving Thursday at the friendly, highly secured site, Trump’s motorcade sped through streets where dozens of protesters gathered to call for his impeachment and oppose what they called his racism and anti-immigrant policies.

They chanted and waved signs near the hotel, where the GOP representatives opened a three-day retreat. Many protesters brought rat-themed props in reference to Trump’s tweets in July, attacking Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Among the protesters was Kristen Tweedy, a nurse practitioner from Canton, whose sign urged, “Oust the Russian Rat!”

“We have to resist. We have to stand up and let the world know that people will do what’s needed to resist fascism,” said Tweedy, 51.

Inside the Marriott ballroom, Trump tossed off his usual nickname-heavy insults of Democrats and the media while congratulating himself on cutting taxes and regulations, successfully appointing judges and cracking down on illegal immigration. He alternated between reading from the teleprompter and ad-libbing, giving a rambling and repetitive quality to his speech.

“We probably have right now the strongest economy in the history of our nation," he said. "About three weeks ago if you had listened, it was doom and gloom.”

"Now, we must go directly to the American people and share the story of what we have achieved,” he told the GOP members.

The representatives were holding their first retreat since they lost the House majority in 2018 elections.

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“House Democrats are putting forward the most radical far-left program ever put forward in that chamber,” Trump said.

Democrats, whom he accused of “colluding” with the media, came in for extended attacks, particularly for opposing his policies on immigration. He told several stories of undocumented immigrants committing crimes.

“I could give you these stories all day long,” he said. “Democrats believe our cities should be sanctuary for violent, criminal aliens. Democrats care more about illegal aliens than their own constituents.”

Trump traveled from Washington on a Marine One helicopter that touched down in a field in Port Covington about 6:30 p.m. The president climbed down the stairs alone and walked slowly to the motorcade, waving at the assembled media. A group of people stood outside a nearby Under Armour building and watched.

Within 10 minutes, the motorcade was speeding through blocked-off streets during a most unusual rush hour, passing protesters shouting expletives and people holding up their phones. There was a “Dump Trump” sign and one with a heart next to Cummings’ name, alongside some calling for Trump’s re-election.

Meanwhile, the president tweeted a message to the city, with a photo from the motorcade: “Hello, Baltimore!”

After the speech, Trump returned to Washington, having spent three hours in Baltimore.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Secret Service and Capitol Police conducted security sweeps in Harbor East as many workers in the upscale neighborhood either telecommuted or left early to avoid traffic snarls.

A 14-foot-tall inflatable rat, complete with the Republican president’s signature lengthy red tie, arrived with Claude Taylor, a Twitter-famous provocateur who said the rodent had been coast to coast, even to Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, club.

“The rat’s been in Newport Beach, California, on a boat, it’s been on the Potomac on a boat,” Taylor said. “It’s been most notably docked off Mar-a-Lago."

Taylor, whose Mad Dog PAC promotes liberal causes, parked the rat on President Street, which he renamed with an official-looking, green-and-white sign affixed underneath the existing one. The new sign read “President Barack Obama Ave.” A couple of “Baby Trump” balloons also floated above the scene.

While protesters and security officials descended on Harbor East, some employees of Legg Mason and other companies in the high-end commercial district either worked from home or left their offices as early as 2 p.m. to avoid streets closed for a presidential motorcade wending through downtown at rush hour. The city Department of Transportation warned commuters to expect “heavy traffic volumes” downtown between 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and leave work early, if possible.

The retreat includes sessions — featuring House members and experts — on health care, the economy and other topics. Speakers on Friday include Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former NFL player Herschel Walker, co-chairman of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition.

The sessions are closed to the public and media, although Trump’s speech Thursday night was livestreamed on the conference organizer’s Facebook page.

The retreat and its high-profile visitor made for an unusual weekday in the neighborhood. Jenny Greenberg Cook, who works at Creative Financial Staffing in the Legg Mason building near the hotel, said she arrived at work to find the garage where she parks nearly empty.

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Cook, 32, a Republican who grew up in Homeland and now lives in Glen Arm, said she was excited for the GOP president’s visit to the city, just weeks after he called Baltimore a “mess" where “no human being would want to live.”

“He needs to come here,” she said. “He needs to show his face and address the issues in person. ... His presence says enough.”

Her co-worker, Briana Heartzberg, 30, a Democrat who lives in Federal Hill, said she hopes Trump sees Harbor East and “sees the area is not a rat-infested dump.”

Cook noted that the president’s comments weren’t focused on Harbor East, but on the poorer neighborhoods of the city where trash and rats are real problems.

Mark Hagerstrom, 66, a retired economist and Los Angeles Dodgers fan who lives in Washington, planned to watch his team play the Orioles at Camden Yards with a pair of friends Thursday evening. They planned to move their car before the afternoon, as their hotel concierge suggested, to make sure they wouldn’t get stuck in the motorcade traffic.

“We get enough of this in D.C.,” he said. “No sense in waiting around for it.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell, Phil Davis and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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