Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who worked for decades as a top neurosurgeon in Baltimore, on Wednesday stood by President Donald Trump’s depiction of the city as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
Carson told reporters during a visit to the city that despite progress Baltimore has made in recent years, “there are problems and we can’t sweep them under the rug.”
“It’s sort of like if you have a patient who has cancer. You can dress them up, and put a nice suit on them, and you can try to ignore it, but that cancer is going to have a devastating effect,” said Carson, who has frequently defended the President against charges of racism over the years. “You have to be willing to address that issue if you are ever going to solve it.”
The President on Saturday attacked Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings on Twitter and suggested that his district, which is majority black and includes parts of Baltimore, is a “very dangerous & filthy place. He also blamed Cummings for the city’s problems. In the wake of backlash, Trump doubled down on Tuesday, saying people in Baltimore “are very happy that I’m bringing out the fact that it’s like living in hell.”
A former neurosurgeon for decades at Johns Hopkins, Carson — the only African-American in Trump’s Cabinet — recalled on Wednesday how he faced a “dilemma” over sending children he operated on back to neighborhoods in East and West Baltimore, “where there were rats and roaches and mice and ticks.”
Asked Wednesday if Cummings was responsible for the city’s conditions, Carson replied, “I’m not one who likes to sit around and point fingers at people.”
Carson said that he spoke to the President “over the last couple of days about what we can do for Baltimore” and said that Trump is “willing to work with” the people of Baltimore — including Cummings — to improve the city.
Asked if Trump would pay a visit to Charm City, Carson said, “I would love for him to come and, first of all, just tour and have the opportunity to see things that work and things that don’t work.”
“I would like for the President to actually express his heart to the people the way he has expressed it to me. I think sometimes, he feels that he’s going to be treated so hostilely that he says, ‘Well maybe, I don’t even want to go there,'” Carson said.
He suggested that the current political climate of “all this animosity all the time” has hindered efforts to work on community development and that the greatest threat to America is divisiveness.
“This is the level of which we have sunken as a society. It’s so important that we stop this, this madness. We have some threats. But it’s not China. It’s not Russia. It’s not North Korea. It’s us, and whether we can learn how to work together and realize that we’re not each other’s enemy and that we have a job to do here,” Carson said.