President Trump celebrated the 400th anniversary of democracy in America on Tuesday in a speech that quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and lamented the dawn of slavery in the new world, while some Democrats boycotted him over racial tensions and one state legislator heckled the president to his face.
Mr. Trump also escalated his feud with Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings over the plight of black people in Baltimore, challenging the chairman of the House Oversight Committee to investigate the living conditions in his own district. And the president said black people in Baltimore have been inundating the White House with phone calls and emails praising him for exposing corruption in the city.
He rejected accusations on the left and in the media that he’s waging a fight with Mr. Cummings to fire up his base heading into the 2020 election.
“I have no strategy,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m pointing out facts. Those people are living in hell in Baltimore. And they really appreciate what I’m doing.”
In the midst of his running battle with Mr. Cummings and several other minority lawmakers, Mr. Trump traveled to Virginia’s Tidewater region to mark the establishment of the first representative assembly in 1619. He toured the historic Jamestown settlement and gave a speech to dignitaries.
“To every Virginian and every legislator with us today, congratulations on four incredible centuries of history, heritage, and commitment to the righteous cause of American self-government,” Mr. Trump said. “This is truly a momentous occasion.”
He said of the founding of Virginia’s House of Burgesses about a mile from where he was speaking, “Self-government in Virginia did not just give us a state we love. In a very true sense, it gave us the country we love: the United States of America.”
While honoring the roots of American democracy, the president was careful to point out that the newfound religious freedom for white English settlers also coincided with the start of centuries of deprivation and horrors for black people in the new world.
“In August 1619, the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies arrived in Virginia,” Mr. Trump said. “It was the beginning of a barbaric trade in human lives. Today, in honor, we remember every sacred soul who suffered the horrors of slavery and the anguish of bondage.”
The president cited King’s words, saying it would take America much longer after the Civil War “to live out ‘the true meaning of its creed’ and extend the blessings of freedom to all Americans.”
“In the face of grave oppression and grave injustice, African Americans have built, strengthened, inspired, uplifted, protected, defended, and sustained our nation from its very earliest days,” Mr. Trump said.
But the Democrats’ increasingly heated accusations of racism against the president followed Mr. Trump to the event. Some elected Virginia Democrats, including members of the Black Legislative Caucus, boycotted the speech.
And just as Mr. Trump had finished proclaiming, “Americans govern ourselves, and so help us God, we always will,” a protester — Democratic state Del. Ibraheem Samirah, a second-generation Palestinian American — approached the dais and shouted at the president, “Mr. President you can’t send us back! Virginia is our home!”
He held up three connected signs that said, “Go back to your corrupted home. Deport hate. Reunite my family and all those shattered by systemic discrimination.”
The crowd booed Mr. Samirah, and began a chant of “Trump!” The president waited until police escorted him away.
Mr. Samirah won a special election earlier this year for a state House seat after he apologized for anti-Israel comments from several years ago. He was born in the U.S. but calls himself a “second-generation Palestinian refugee.”
He tweeted after the event, “I just disrupted the @realDonaldTrump speech in Jamestown because nobody’s racism and bigotry should be excused for the sake of being polite. The man is unfit for office and unfit to partake in a celebration of democracy, representation, and our nation’s history of immigrants.”
Upon his return to the White House, Mr. Trump told reporters that the protester “didn’t look so good to me.” He criticized the media for focusing on the demonstrator instead of his speech.
“We had one person, but other than that it was really fantastic,” the president said.
The Republican Party of Virginia said Mr. Samirah is “the anti-Semitic Democrat Delegate best known for a series of virulently bigoted Facebook posts characterizing the KKK as being better than Israel and wondering aloud why he should care about the Holocaust.”
“Delegate Samirah’s outburst was nothing more than childish frustration over Hillary Clinton’s loss,” said RPV Chairman Jack Wilson. “If the Democrats wanted someone to protest this historic, bipartisan event, maybe they should not have picked an anti-Semite. Ibraheem Samirah is a disgrace to Virginia and should resign.”