Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is disputing President Donald Trump’s characterization of a conversation they had at the White House last month — arguing he never said Trump would “go down as one of the great presidents.”
Trump’s mention of Cummings, the most recent example in a series of similar exchanges, came during an interview with Trump raised Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, during a conversation about Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.
“Elijah Cummings was in my office and he said, ‘You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country,'” Trump said, according to a transcript of the Times interview. “And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, ‘Was that the same man?'”
The president then reiterated the point.
“But I said, and I liked him, but I said that was really nice,” Trump said. “He said, in a group of people, ‘You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.’ And then I watched him on television and I said, ‘Is that the same man that said that to me?'”
Asked about the assertion, Cummings said his point was more nuanced.
“During my meeting with the president and on several occasions since then, I have said repeatedly that he could be a great president if — if — he takes steps to truly represent all Americans rather than continuing on the divisive and harmful path he is currently on,” Cummings said in a statement.
Cummings, who represents a heavily Democratic city that supported Hillary Clinton eight-to-one over Trump, met with the president in early March to discuss rising prescription drug prices. As he emerged from the meeting, Cummings said Trump was well versed in that issue. But he also said he told the president that the language he uses to describe African-Americans has been “hurtful” and “insulting.”
It’s not the first time Trump has referenced Cummings, and he has repeatedly used the same rhetorical formula: Setting the congressman up as an agreeable politician who the president then laments is pulled back from finding common ground by his party.
Trump raised Cummings during a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus on March 22. Cummings, a member of the caucus, was not present at the meeting.
“Elijah Cummings who was here about two weeks ago, who I happen to think is a terrific man — I know he wouldn’t say that about me — but I really like him a lot,” the president said.
A month earlier, during a press conference, Trump suggested Cummings was trying to back out of their meeting on prescription drugs.
“I was all set to have that meeting. We called him and called him. Very nice guy,” Trump said of Cummings.
The president said that Cummings “was all excited [about the meeting] and then he said, ‘Oh, I can’t move, it might be bad for me politically. I can’t have that meeting.'”
Cummings balked at that assessment at the time, and the meeting ultimately took place on March 8.
“I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today,” the congressman said.