President Donald Trump is claiming a groundswell of African American support in response to his comments denigrating Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and the congressman's majority-black Baltimore district, despite polling showing consistently negative numbers.
Speaking to reporters as he left the White House on Tuesday, Trump claimed the building had been flooded with thousands of letters, emails and phone calls after his criticism of Baltimore thanking him for "getting involved" and exposing corruption.
"They really appreciate what I'm doing, and they've let me know it," said the Republican president. The White House did not immediately provide any evidence backing up Trump's claims.
Trump's comments came in response to fierce backlash against his earlier remarks lashing out at Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and calling his district a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess." Trump also is under fire for his ongoing attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color, who he tweeted should "go back" to their countries — even though three of the four were born in the United States and all are U.S. citizens.
But Trump on Tuesday nonetheless declared himself "the least racist person" in the world, despite his recent comments and racist tweets. And he said "African American people love the job" he's doing, despite the fact that numerous polls have shown African Americans are overwhelmingly negative in their assessments of his performance.
Approval among black Americans has hovered around 10% over the course of Trump's presidency, according to Gallup polling, with 8% approving in June. And a new Quinnipiac University poll out Tuesday found that 80% of registered African American voters think Trump is racist, versus 11% who think he's not.
Polling also suggests his recent attacks could hurt Trump with suburban voters — and especially women — whom he may need to win next year. Trump in recent days, however, has expressed to advisers on his reelection team that he believes his broadsides against the minority Democrats will help excite his core supporters.
Trump insisted Tuesday that there was "zero strategy" in his attacks and that he was only "pointing out facts," even as he argued they were benefiting him.
"I think I'm helping myself because I'm pointing out the tremendous corruption that's taking place in Baltimore and other Democratic-run cities," Trump said, as he continued to hammer his criticism.
"Those people are living in hell in Baltimore," he said, adding he was open to some kind of unspecified federal involvement.
"If they ask," he said, "We will get involved."
Maryland's two Democratic senators, saying they could not sit by as Trump continued his assault on the city and its representative, delivered back-to-back Senate speeches Tuesday urging the president to do better.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen called Baltimore a "great American city." He said Trump's "poisonous barrage" has only served to rally not just the people of Maryland, but all over America, to support it.
"It doesn't do Baltimore city or any city in this country any good when the person in the highest office in this country launches these nasty, personal, racial diatribes," he said. "All of us have an obligation and a responsibility to speak out."
Sen. Ben Cardin, noting that he and Cummings graduated from the same Baltimore public high school, called the congressman an "inspiration." He said the president is "trying to bully minorities and others in this country" to distract from congressional oversight. "It won't work."
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking to reporters in Columbus, Ohio, also defended Trump, pointing to the low black unemployment rate and criminal justice reform legislation that Trump signed into law last year.
"President Trump is someone who calls it like he sees it," said Pence. "President Trump believes in being able to say when things are not what they should be, to call on leadership, to call on state leadership, and say you have to do better."
But Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, accused Trump of exaggerating the economic gains that African Americans have made since he took office and noted the continued racial gap.
"Currently, African American unemployment remains double that of white Americans and the national average despite gains in the job market," she said.
Black unemployment did reach a record low during the Trump administration: 5.9 percent in May 2018. It currently stands at 6 percent. But many economists view the continued economic growth since the middle of 2009, when Democratic President Barack Obama was in office, as the primary explanation for hiring.
Associated Press Deputy Polling Director Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.