WASHINGTON – After 2½ weeks of racially polarizing shots at his opponents, President Donald Trump said Tuesday he looked forward to two nights of Democratic debates at which his tweets on Baltimore and minority members of Congress will probably be addressed.
"I think I'm helping myself," Trump said, defending his attacks on African American and Hispanic lawmakers. He claimed he is pointing out "the tremendous corruption" in cities such as Baltimore.
"I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world," Trump said during a morning session with reporters.
Later in the day, Trump denied that his attacks are part of a political plan: "There's no strategy. I have no strategy. There's zero strategy."
Democratic presidential candidates gathering in Detroit said Trump stokes racial resentments in a bid to build support within his political base. They are likely to assail his views during debates Tuesday and Wednesday night.
Saturday, Trump targeted Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., when he described Baltimore, part of which is in Cummings' district, as "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess." He tweeted that "no human being would want to live there" and that the district is "far worse and more dangerous" than conditions on the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
Trump said Tuesday that "I am watching" the debates, and he sees former Vice President Joe Biden as the favorite for the nomination to oppose him in the fall of 2020.
"I think he'll limp across the line," he said.
Trump and Baltimore: Pelosi denounces Trump's 'racist attacks' on Rep. Elijah Cummings and Baltimore
Monday, Biden said, "The fact that President Trump continues to use the power of the presidency to unleash racist attacks on the people he serves is despicable."
Trump spoke at the White House en route and after returning from a speech in Jamestown, Virginia, to mark the 400th anniversary of the first elected representative legislative assembly.
On both occasions, Trump maintained his attacks on Cummings and his home base of Baltimore, saying the city has "been very badly mishandled for many years. ... The people are living in hell in Baltimore." He said he would visit Baltimore "at the right time."
Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young described Trump's attacks as "racist” bids for votes.
“We do have our problems, but we are no different than any other American city,” Young, a Democrat, told USA TODAY. “I just think the president should focus more on America as a place where we can live as one nation, not divided by race.”
The Democratic debates in Detroit follow weeks of racial debate sparked by Trump.
First came a tweet July 14 attacking members of the "Squad," a group of four women lawmakers of color who criticized Trump on various issues. He said they should "go back" where they came from, although all are U.S. citizens.
At a rally July 17 in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump supporters chanted, "Send her back" in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who came to the USA as a child refugee from Somalia.
This past weekend, Trump expanded his attack to include Cummings, a committee chairman who seeks financial records from Trump and members of his family. Trump said the Maryland congressman "should start doing some oversight on Baltimore."
Trump won 12% of the black vote in 2016, according to exit polls, and 11% of the Latino vote. A recent Quinnipiac survey gave Trump a 7% approval rating among African Americans. Seventy-nine percent of African American respondents said they "strongly" disapproved of Trump's performance.
In other comments, Trump:
Defended his new nominee for director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas. Democrats said Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney, is not qualified for the job and claimed experience in terrorism prosecutions that he lacks. Trump said Ratcliffe, who would replace Dan Coats if confirmed by the Senate, is “a very talented guy.”
Assailed a Washington Post column that described Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as a "Russian asset" for opposing federal election security legislation. "I think the Washington Post is a Russian asset," Trump said.
Again criticized the Federal Reserve, saying its expected interest rate cut this week is too little, too late. "The Fed is often wrong," Trump said.
Expressed skepticism about renewed negotiations with China on a new trade agreement with the United States. He said the Chinese balk at concessions because they hope Trump will lose to the Democratic nominee in the 2020 election. "They would just love if I got defeated," the president said. "They’ll pray that Trump loses.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump claims he's least racist person, says Biden is Democrat favorite