WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump booked back-to-back Memorial Day appearances despite the coronavirus pandemic, at Arlington National Cemetery and at a historic fort in Baltimore. Trump recently called Baltimore a "rat and rodent infested mess," and its mayor has suggested Trump stay home.
Presidents typically honor fallen military members by laying a wreath and delivering a speech at the hallowed burial ground in Virginia. But the pandemic, which is expected to claim its 100,000th American this week, has led to changes this year. Trump will only lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
He is expected to speak later at Baltimore's Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. It's where a poem, written after a huge American flag was hoisted to celebrate an important victory over the British during the War of 1812, became "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Trump has been steadily ramping up his schedule in an effort to portray the nation as returning to its pre-pandemic ways as it emerges from a devastating economic shutdown intended to slow the virus.
The U.S. leads the world with more than 1.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 97,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
This month, Trump has toured factories in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan that make pandemic supplies. He planned to be in Florida on Wednesday to watch two NASA astronauts rocket into space, and he played golf at his private club in Virginia on Saturday and Sunday.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young has criticized Trump's visit, saying the trip sends the wrong message about stay-at-home directives and that the city cannot afford the added cost of a presidential visit at a time when it is losing $20 million a month because of the pandemic.
"That President Trump is deciding to pursue nonessential travel sends the wrong message to our residents," Young, a Democrat, said in a statement last week. He referenced the disproportionate effect the virus has had on his city and called on Trump to "set a positive example" by not traveling during the holiday weekend.
The White House sounded unmoved.
"The brave men and women who have preserved our freedoms for generations did not stay home and the president will not either as he honors their sacrifice by visiting such a historic landmark in our nation's history," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an emailed statement Sunday.
Trump will visit Baltimore just over a week after Maryland began to lift some of the restrictions it had put in place for the coronavirus, though they remain in effect in Baltimore. Baltimore and the Washington, D.C., area have the nation's highest percentages of positive cases, according to Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force.
Trump last summer described a congressional district that includes Baltimore as a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" where "no human being would want to live."
He visited Baltimore months later to address a meeting of congressional Republicans, and a giant inflatable rat adorned with Trump-style hair and a red necktie taunted from a few blocks away. Trump did not visit any Baltimore neighborhoods.