President Donald Trump, who disparaged Baltimore this summer as more deadly than Afghanistan and “disgusting, rat and rodent infested,” is coming to town Thursday afternoon.
The 45th president’s visit has the potential to snarl rush-hour traffic downtown. It’s also motivating protesters, who are using the visit to advocate against a variety of injustices, from racism to climate change.
Why is Trump coming to Baltimore if he thinks it’s so awful?
The occasion for Trump’s visit is a retreat by Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The members of Congress are meeting from Thursday through Saturday at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel in Harbor East.
Presidents often visit congressional retreats, and Trump spoke at the last two Republican events.
The retreat was originally planned for January in West Virginia, but was postponed due to a partial federal government shutdown at the time. Organizers picked Baltimore before Trump spent several days in July blasting the city on social media and when talking with reporters and his supporters.
What exactly did Trump say about Baltimore?
The Republican president says a lot of things on Twitter, but his late July comments stung Baltimore residents and the city’s boosters.
On July 27, Trump blasted U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who leads a congressional committee that is conducting several investigations into the president.
Trump tweeted that Cummings’ district — which includes much of Baltimore, but also large swaths of the suburbs — is “considered the worst run and the most dangerous anywhere in the United States. No Human being would want to live there.” Trump also said the district is “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
Trump doubled down on his comments in subsequent days, alleging that billions of dollars in federal aid to the city has been “wasted” and “stolen." City officials disputed that claim. Trump never offered evidence, and the White House responded 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.
When is Trump arriving?
Neither the White House nor city officials have provided a timeline of the president’s arrival. Republican retreat organizers have said Trump will give a dinner speech.
City transportation officials warn authorities may close intersections periodically and there will be heavy traffic downtown between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday. In a warning Thursday morning, city officials said drivers should essentially avoid all of downtown. They defined the area as all streets south of Baltimore Street, between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the west side and Central Avenue in Little Italy.
Downtown workers are encouraged to leave for home before 4 p.m.
The president’s visit coincides with a home Orioles game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with first pitch at 7:05 p.m. While the 46-98 Orioles aren’t drawing huge crowds, more than 11,000 fans attended Wednesday’s game.
Baseball fans are encouraged to take MTA buses or the light rail to Thursday’s game.
Are there going to be protests?
Yes, there are going to be several protests in the coming days, starting with a demonstration at the Christopher Columbus statue in Harbor East at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Protest organizers, who call themselves the “Baltimore Welcoming Committee,” say they are motivated by both general opposition to Republican policies and specific anger at Trump’s tirade against the city.
Andre Powell of the Peoples Power Assembly said he immediately knew he wanted to protest the Republican retreat when he learned it would be coming to the city. Finding out Trump would attend, too, “gives it an extra kick.”
“The fact that he attacked Baltimore adds fuel to the fire,” said Powell, a 65-year-old retired social services employee from the Northwood neighborhood of northeast Baltimore.
Climate activists Dom Serino and Morgan Thapa from the group Extinction Rebellion see the retreat as an opportunity to get out their message that climate change is a grave danger to Baltimore — and Republicans are denying that reality.
“I feel obligated to be here to show we’re not OK with what Trump and the GOP stand for,” said Serino, 23, who lives in the Woodberry neighborhood, northwest of downtown.
Planned protests include:
- “No Racists in Our Streets" rally, 4 p.m. Thursday at the Christopher Columbus statue.
- “Can You Hear the People Sing?” labor protest, 5 p.m. Friday, promenade outside the Marriott.
- LGBTQ+ and allies dance party, 7 p.m. Friday, promenade outside the Marriott.
- “We Are Baltimore Rally,” 10:30 a.m. Saturday, at the Christopher Columbus statue.
- “Apocalypse is Now” demonstration, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, promenade outside the Marriott.
Thursday’s weather could be challenging for protesters. The National Weather Service forecast calls for a high of 90 degrees with a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 4 p.m.
There have been no public announcements of any pro-Trump demonstrations or rallies.
Are police prepared?
Baltimore Police Col. Rich Worley, the department’s chief of patrol, said police officers will be ready for the protests.
He noted the department has experience with protests, particularly since the death of Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured in city police custody in 2015. Gray’s death and the subsequent trials of the officers involved spurred numerous planned and spontaneous protests and marches.
“We're pretty good at handling protests over the last five years. We've got a lot of practice,” Worley said.
Baltimore’s police officers are operating under a consent decree that was reached with the U.S. Department of Justice, after the federal government found systemic problems in the department. The consent decree includes requirements for police to respect the First Amendment rights of lawful protesters.
Will he talk about Baltimore?
The White House has not offered a preview of the president’s speech, which is not open to the public, so we don’t know if he’ll mention the city or not.
The speech will be livestreamed on the Facebook page of the Congressional Institute: facebook.com/cong.inst/.
Besides his summer tirade against the city, Trump has occasionally mentioned Baltimore.
On Independence Day this year, Trump sought to praise the nation’s military history but mixed some details from different wars. Trump began speaking about the Continental Army’s challenges during the American Revolution, then said the army had “nothing but victory” at Fort McHenry. “When dawn came, their star-spangled banner waived defiant,” he said.
Fort McHenry was the site of the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, several decades after the revolution.
Coincidentally, Trump’s visit falls on Defenders’ Day in Baltimore. That’s the anniversary of the 1814 battle that inspired what became our national anthem.
Will any of our local politicians be there?
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County is Maryland’s only Republican in Congress, and he’s expected to attend.
Neither Republican Gov. Larry Hogan nor Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has plans to attend the speech or meet with the president.
Young offered a tepid salutation Wednesday: “We’re a welcoming city and he’s welcome to be here.”
Will Trump see any other parts of the city?
Probably not. The president has a lunch and meetings planned in Washington earlier in the day, likely leaving little time for checking out Charm City.
In past visits, Trump has also only seen glimpses of the Baltimore area. While a candidate in 2016, Trump spoke to the National Guard Association of the United States at the Baltimore Convention Center, and then stopped to greet supporters at the Boulevard Diner in Dundalk. Shortly after the election, Trump attended the Army-Navy football game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.