Ben Carson defends Trump, compares Baltimore to cancer patient

By Katy O'Donnell

HUD Secretary Ben Carson returned to his longtime home of Baltimore on Wednesday to try to defuse the uproar over President Donald Trump's calling the city a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

“The federal government has invested a lot of money in Baltimore and will continue to do so," said Carson, the only black member of Trump's Cabinet, at a press conference in the city.

But "there are problems, and we can’t sweep them under the rug," he added. "It’s sort of like if you have a patient who has cancer, and you can dress them up and put a nice suit on it and you can try to ignore it, but that cancer is going to have a devastating effect. You have to be willing to address that issue if you’re ever going to solve it.”

He said he would like for Trump to visit the city, but suggested that the president feels he would be treated "so hostilely" that he was reluctant to come.

Trump slammed the city on Saturday, calling it a “very dangerous and filthy place” in tweets attacking Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), whose district includes about half of Baltimore. “No human being would want to live there,” Trump tweeted of the majority-black city.

Cummings, who is black, is the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which is probing Trump’s administration.

Trump refused to back down on Tuesday, asserting — without citing any evidence — that his remarks have been welcomed by the black community.

“I’ve received more phone calls than I think on any other subject of people from Baltimore and other cities corruptly run by Democrats, thanking me for getting involved,” he told reporters outside the White House.

“Those people are living in hell in Baltimore. They’re largely African American,” Trump added. “You have a large African American population, and they really appreciate what I’m doing. And they’ve let me know it.”

Carson said he has spoken with Trump “over the last couple of days about what can we do for Baltimore. He’s very willing to work with people here in Baltimore, including with Elijah Cummings,” he said.

Cummings was invited to the event Wednesday but couldn’t make it “due to scheduling commitments,” a spokesperson for the lawmaker said.

It was the second time this week that Carson appeared in public to vouch for the president, whose unsparing criticism of the city has spurred charges of racism. Carson defended Trump to Tucker Carlson on Fox News Monday.

He said Wednesday that he hopes the president will visit the city.

“I would like for the president to actually express his heart to people the way he has expressed it to me. I think sometimes he feels that he’s going to be treated so hostilely that, you know, he says, ‘Well, maybe I don’t even want to go there,’” Carson said.

“There’s a lot to be proud of here in Baltimore,” said Carson, whose sterling reputation as a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins was itself a source of pride for the city for years.

Carson referred to that career Wednesday, saying he often faced a “dilemma” about sending his patients “back into some of the neighborhoods that I knew that they came from … where there were rats and roaches and mice and ticks, where there were just unabated lead problems that were having devastating effects on their mental development.”

As secretary of HUD, he added, he’s now in a position to address some of the housing-related problems — “but its so important, to be able to deal with these issues, that we’re willing to talk about them, and that we’re willing to work together.”

The crime rate in Baltimore has soared in recent years — a surge traced back to the aftermath of the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a black man, while in police custody — even as violent crime decreased nationally.

The 342 killings in 2017 placed Baltimore’s homicide rate — 56 per 100,000 people, according to FBI data — above any other major American metropolis. Such a rate would yield nearly 5,000 homicides a year in a city the size of New York.

The trend doesn’t show signs of slowing down: There have been 196 reported homicides so far this year, according to a database maintained by the Baltimore Sun.