Rep. Elijah E. Cummings called for unity and an end to divisive racist rhetoric Wednesday and pleaded with President Trump to join him in traveling through Baltimore, saying they could visit the volunteers who are trying to make the city a better place.
The president can bring the government’s checkbook, too, Mr. Cummings suggested, saying the city’s well-chronicled problems can be fixed by more taxpayer money.
“We need funds to build up our communities,” the Maryland Democrat said at the National Press Club in downtown Washington, where he held forth for an hour, talking about his recent rhetorical battles with the president, the shootings and the emerging debate over guns, and his role as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, where he’s investigating many aspects of the Trump administration.
The lawmaker said he figures Mr. Trump is “probably a nice guy,” but that won’t stop him from leading investigations.
Still, he suggested, there are areas where he said they can talk — including giving more assistance to Baltimore. Mr. Trump late last month called Mr. Cummings’ congressional district, which covers most of the city, a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
“You know what? I want President Trump to come to my district,” the congressman said, though he said his efforts to extend the invitation have fallen short. “I can’t get to him.”
The appearance at the press club was scheduled well before Mr. Trump and Mr. Cummings started their back-and-forth. But the atmosphere served to heighten interest in Mr. Cummings, who reveled in his time on stage, urging his audience — both the public and the press — to put pressure on Senate Republicans to act on gun control and to try to control overheated rhetoric.
Several times, Mr. Cummings pleaded for public officials to “take people to the high ground.”
Yet he also took aim at Mr. Trump and his top aides.
He pointedly urged reporters to look at the opioid abuse rates in the old congressional district of former Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who is now Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff.
“I want you to look at Mulvaney’s former district. Look at the stats on that,” he said.
It’s not clear what Mr. Cummings’ goal was with that suggestion, but numbers from the Foundation for AIDS Research, which reports opioid data broken down by congressional district, showed 15.7 opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District in 2017.
Mr. Cummings’s seat, Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, reported nearly four times that rate, at 58.6 deaths. The HIV infection rate in Mr. Cummings’ district was more than five times that of South Carolina’s 5th District.
The congressman got personal in his remarks Wednesday, revealing striking details about his family.
He recounted his 91-year-old mother’s deathbed words to him, which weren’t about her pride in him. Instead, she wanted to talk voting rights.
“The last words she spoke before she died was do not let anyone take our votes away,” Mr. Cummings recalled.
And several times he mentioned a conversation with his niece last weekend, where she seemed to be swayed by her uncle’s descriptions of the border situation, where illegal immigrants are held in cells that are sometimes divided by chain-link fences.
“Uncle Elijah, are they going to put us in cages?” he recalled his niece saying.
“‘Are they going to put is in cages?’ This from a 10-year-old,” he said. “We are better than that.”
As chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Mr. Cummings has been among the most vehement critics of the Department of Homeland Security, including holding a series of hearings last month accusing the administration of forcing some children to sit “in their own feces,” and suggesting acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan was misleading Congress.
It was those comments that appeared to spark Mr. Trump’s anger last week when he complained Mr. Cummings was ignoring poor conditions in his own hometown.