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Republicans, Trump work to clarify Milwaukee horrible city comment as Democrats, Biden seize on it

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(MILWAUKEE) — Former President Donald Trump’s comments reportedly calling Milwaukee a “horrible city” continue to spark debate as Republicans and Trump’s campaign dispute the characterization of his comments, and Democrats persistently amplify his words — including through a new billboard campaign in the city.

In his closed-door meeting with House Republicans on Thursday, Trump called Milwaukee, which is hosting the Republican National Convention next month, a “horrible city,” sources told ABC News.

The comments, first reported by Punchbowl News, attacked Milwaukee — a major city in a key battleground state in the 2024 election where both Trump and President Joe Biden are working to woo voters.

Trump clarified his comments in an interview with WITI-TV, the Milwaukee Fox News station, on Thursday.

“It was very clear what I meant. I said, we’re very concerned with crime,” Trump said. “I love Milwaukee, I have great friends in Milwaukee. The crime numbers are terrible and we have to be very careful.”

Trump’s campaign spokesperson also punched back on the reports, arguing that Trump’s words were taken out of context.

“He was talking about how terrible crime and voter fraud are,” said campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung.

In another statement, the campaign wrote that it was a “total lie” that Trump called Milwaukee a “horrible city.” However, they went on to add, “President Trump was explicitly referring to the problems in Milwaukee, specifically violent crime and voter fraud,” suggesting he did make comments about the city, just not in the way some were interpreting it.

The campaign then includes a series of tweets from Republican members from Wisconsin inside the room who agree with the campaign’s description that Trump was not making a blanket disparaging statement about the city.

Republicans — including those from Wisconsin — quickly jumped to Trump’s defense, insisting the former president was talking about crime and election security.

“@realdonaldtrump was specifically referring to the CRIME RATE in Milwaukee,” Rep. Derrick Van Orden posted on X after the meeting.

Rep. Glenn Grothman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Trump “was concerned about the election” and “felt we need to do better in urban centers around the country.”

Rep. Bryan Steil claimed on X that Trump “did not say this” in the conference meeting.

“There is no better place than Wisconsin in July,” Steil said.

The front page of Friday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel featured Trump’s words front and center: “Trump: Milwaukee ‘horrible."”

Biden’s campaign and other Democrats are also teeing off on Trump’s comments.

Biden’s campaign is starting to sell merchandise, including stickers and T-shirts that read “(NOT) a horrible city” on top of the Wisconsin state outline as well as “I love Milwaukee” T-shirts where the heart is replaced with beer, an homage to the many breweries around the state.

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee announced that the group has paid to put up billboards around Milwaukee with Trump’s reported comments criticizing the city.

The billboards, which will launch in 10 different locations across the city, feature the quote that Trump is reported to have said during Thursday’s closed-door House Republican meeting: “Milwaukee, where we are having our convention, is a horrible city.”

In a post on X, Biden responded to Trump’s comments with a photo of him with the Milwaukee Bucks after they won the 2021 NBA Championship.

“I happen to love Milwaukee.”

I happen to love Milwaukee. pic.twitter.com/QRfgwbETV7

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 13, 2024

Trump’s rivals are accusing him of abandoning the pivotal swing state — including Wisconsin’s Democrats.

“If Donald Trump thinks Milwaukee is so horrible, then he shouldn’t come to our city,” Wisconsin Democratic Coordinated Campaign Manager Garren Randolph said in a statement. “Milwaukee — our state’s largest and most diverse city and home to more than 577,000 people, the Bucks and Brewers, and the country’s best beer — deserves better than a convicted felon, racist, and wannabe dictator who hates us and our values.”

Trump is scheduled to hold a campaign event in Racine, Wisconsin — 30 miles south of Milwaukee — next Tuesday, where he will focus his remarks on inflation and immigration. In just over a month, Trump will return to Milwaukee to accept the Republican nomination at the party’s convention.

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