© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trump Criticizes Flint Pastor — But Misstates Key Facts About Their Encounter

The Rev. Faith Green Timmons interrupts Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as he speaks during a visit to Bethel United Methodist Church in Flint, Mich.
Evan Vucci
The Rev. Faith Green Timmons interrupts Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as he speaks during a visit to Bethel United Methodist Church in Flint, Mich.

Donald Trump is lashing out against an African-American pastor who interrupted him Wednesday to chide him for campaigning in her Flint, Mich., church.

"Something was up," Trump told Fox and Friends on Thursday morning, calling the Rev. Faith Green Timmons a "nervous mess."

"I noticed she was so nervous when she introduced me," he said. "When she got up to introduce me she was so nervous, she was shaking. I said, wow, this is kind of strange. Then she came up. So she had that in mind, there's no question."

That was preceded, as Politicoreported, by one of the show's hosts, Steve Doocy, referencing a Facebook post on Timmons' page that read, "HE WILL NOT USE US, WE will EDUCATE HIM!!!" Doocy asked if he thought "they were out to sabotage you." (That post no longer appears on Timmons' page.)

Recently, Trump has been trying to reach out to black voters. At an event this month at a black church in Detroit, for example, Trump said, "I'm here today to learn. ... " That more humble tone came after his broad-brush characterizations — before mostly white crowds — of black communities as having schools that are "no good," that "you have no jobs," so, "What the hell do you have to lose?"

I was in the room in Flint as a pool reporter at the time, and here's what happened: Trump visited Bethel United Methodist Church on Wednesday afternoon after briefly touring Flint's water treatment plant. (Flint has become a must-visit campaign stop this year because of its high-profile water quality crisis.)

The Rev. Timmons introduced Trump to the predominantly African-American crowd of about 50 people, and she didn't appear nervous at all.

Trump began his brief speech with a joke. "It used to be cars were made in Flint, and you couldn't drink the water in Mexico. Now the cars are made in Mexico, and you can't drink the water in Flint."

After that, Trump shifted into a version of his now-standard stump speech, blasting free-trade deals like NAFTA and pointing out that then-President Clinton completed the international trade deal.

As Trump began to criticize his opponent, Hillary Clinton, Timmons slowly walked back onto the stage.

"Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we've done for Flint, not to give a political speech," she said.

"Oh, oh, OK, OK, OK. That's good," Trump said. "Then I'm going to go back onto Flint, OK."

"The audience was saying, 'Let him speak, let him speak,' " Trump told Fox and Friends.

That isn't true. In fact, several audience members began to heckle Trump, asking pointed questions about whether he racially discriminated against black tenants as a landlord.

And that's when Timmons — who Trump said Thursday had planned to ambush him — stepped in to defend Trump, saying the Republican nominee was "a guest of my church, and you will respect him."

"Thank you. Thank you, Pastor," Trump responded.

The pointed questions for Trump continued as he wrapped up his remarks, though — and that's the moment when the press traveling with Trump were hastily escorted out of the room.

Wednesday night, Timmons was back on Facebook.

"Had he stuck to what his camp claimed he came to do," she wrote, "we would not have had a problem! - Good night."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.