Trump mocks Democratic candidates as they spar at third debate

"I hit Pocahontas way too early. I thought she was gone. She's emerged from the ashes and now it looks like she could beat Sleepy Joe,'" the president said at a House GOP dinner as the Democratic debate got underway in Houston.

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By Rebecca Shabad

As the third Democratic debate got underway in Houston Thursday night, President Donald Trump took aim at several of the candidates taking the stage there, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former Vice President Joe Biden.

"I hit Pocahontas way too early. I thought she was gone. She's emerged from the ashes and now it looks like she could beat Sleepy Joe, he's falling asleep. He has no idea what the hell he's doing or saying," Trump said in remarks before House Republicans at their annual retreat in Baltimore Thursday night.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the third Democratic debate.

Trump brought out another favored trail nickname for a Democratic rival, calling Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., "Crazy Bernie" and mocked the pronunciation of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg's name, repeatedly saying, "Boot-edge-edge."

The president then brought up Chinese President Xi Jinping. "Whoa boy. He’s a furious kind of a guy. Great guy. He’s dying to see...he wants Sleepy Joe."

"Here's Xi...huh!" Trump yelled, holding up his two fists, seemingly trying to imitate the Chinese leader.

"And here's Sleepy Joe, 'Wha? Where am I? Where am I?'" he said, trying to imitate Biden.

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Trump said Xi would then say, "'Just sign here, sleepy Joe,'" he said.

The president again suggested that his record on the economy would be his ticket to another term in 2020.

"I wonder if that will be mentioned tonight during the debate. I don’t know. I have feeling…I don’t know. What do you think Steve? Kevin, do you think they’ll be talking about that? I don’t think so," Trump said referring to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

"That’s a good debate point," he said. "As they hit me left and right, I’ll say, 'African American unemployment is the lowest it’s ever been,' and just leave the stage and say, 'thank you very much. Good luck,'" he said drawing laughter and applause from Republican lawmakers.

He added his usual economic campaign pitch — that African American and overall U.S. poverty rates have reached record lows. "I mean how do you lose this debate? How do you lose this debate? That’s a tough one to beat also," he said.

Earlier in the night, Trump said that he would have to miss watching the Democratic debate, and predicting that one of the three candidates leading in the polls will ultimately win the party’s nomination next year.

“It’s too bad I’m going to miss it. I’m going to have to somehow have it taped. I didn’t even tell them about that, so maybe it’s not that important, but it is important,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House as he left to speak at the House GOP retreat in Baltimore.

This summer, Trump called Baltimore the “most unsafe city in the country” and a “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess.”

Trump added that he looked forward to returning home and watching a rerun of the debate.

The president would not say who he thought his strongest opponent might be. "They all have their weaknesses and their strengths. I think that they’re very different," he said. "You certainly have a lot of different voices out there. It would look to me that it would be Elizabeth Warren and it looks like Joe may, will be able to get there, maybe not. I don’t know. Certainly Bernie is there, he’s number three. They’re so far in the lead, the three of them."

Trump added then that he thought Biden "will be able to make it" to the nomination, beating Warren and Sanders, but only if he "doesn't make any major mistakes."

Asked if he respected any of the Democrats debating Thursday night, Trump responded that he did: "I respect all of them. I respect every one. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of courage to run for office. I respect all of them. See that? I'm getting to be much better as a politician. You never thought you'd hear that answer."

Around the time he spoke, the president’s 2020 re-election campaign blasted out a poll to its supporters that asked people to choose between Trump and a slew of derogatory adjectives used to describe Democrats, including MS 13-loving, wacky, sanctimonious, delusional, un-American, sleazy, lyin’ and radical socialist.

Ten candidates were participating in the third 2020 Democratic presidential debate Thursday evening in Houston, including Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg, as well as Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

In June, the president declared the first debate “BORING!” The following month, he said that the candidates on the debate stage wouldn’t “Make America Great Again or Keep America Great!”