WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump lashed out at a leading black congressman Saturday, calling him "a brutal bully" who represents a Baltimore-based district that has become a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" where "no human being would want to live."
Trump's comments on Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., a leading critic of the president, parroted a segment that aired earlier in the morning on Fox & Friends. The president suggested that the congressman was a hypocrite for criticizing conditions in migrant detention centers at the southwestern border when his own district is blighted. Trump also made a vague and unsubstantiated insinuation of corruption.
"Rep, Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous," Trump wrote. "His district is considered the Worst in the USA."
Trump went on: "Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place."
Cummings responded on Twitter shortly afterward, saying he was a vigorous advocate for his district. "Mr. President, I go home to my district daily," he wrote. "Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents."
The congressman pointed to a hearing he held Friday on his effort to legislate lower drug prices, which would help his Baltimore constituents. "You told me then that you supported the legislation and that you would work with me to make it happen," Cummings said, still addressing the president. "I took you at your word."
Trump's tweets could revive the criticism that followed his remarks on four first-term Democratic congresswomen of color, who he declared should "go back" to their home countries, even though three of them were born in the United States and the fourth is also an American citizen. The president's tropes generated anger on the part of Democrats and some Republicans, leading the House to pass a resolution condemning his remarks.
On Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded on Twitter to the president's criticism of Cummings, calling the congressman a patriot and a "champion in the Congress and the country for civil rights and economic justice, a beloved leader in Baltimore, and deeply valued colleague."
Pelosi, who grew up in Baltimore, where her father was mayor, added, "We all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership."
Trump's tweets came shortly after Fox & Friends aired a segment Saturday morning assailing Cummings for focusing on migrants more than his own constituents. As video footage showed boarded-up houses and trash-strewn areas of Baltimore, the Fox television host said that "living conditions at the border are better than most areas in his district."
The video was shot by Kimberly Klacik, a Republican strategist from Baltimore who is black and was interviewed on the segment. She later rejected the idea that criticism of Cummings and how he represents his district was racially biased.
She wrote on Twitter that "it is so sad" to interpret turning "the light currently shining on #WestBaltimore into a race issue," adding that Cummings "could help get his district in order."
Trump tweeted again later in the day and explicitly referred to race by asserting that black voters support him. "Elijah Cummings spends all of his time trying to hurt innocent people through 'Oversight,'" he wrote on Twitter. "He does NOTHING for his very poor, very dangerous and very badly run district!" He then added: "#BlacksForTrump2020."
Cummings' district is 53% black, according to the census, and includes much of Baltimore as well as vast suburban stretches. Baltimore has struggled with crime in recent years, recording more murders in 2017 than any other city of at least 500,000 residents -- and more even than New York, a vastly larger city.
Trump has denied allegations that he is racist, citing in his defense the low unemployment rates for Hispanics and blacks on his watch, among other things.
Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, has been one of the president's most persistent critics in Congress.
Cummings has drawn the president's ire for investigations touching on Trump's family members serving in the White House. On Thursday, Cummings' committee voted along party lines to authorize subpoenas for personal emails and texts used for official business by top White House aides, including Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
The Maryland congressman has also assailed the administration's handling of the border. At a recent hearing, Cummings confronted Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, about conditions for detained migrants, criticizing the secretary's contention that his department was doing its "level best" to manage the situation.
"What does that mean?" Cummings demanded. "What does that mean when a child is sitting in their own feces, can't take a shower? Come on, man. What is that about? None of us would have our children in that position. They are human beings."
In his tweets Saturday, the president said Cummings was distorting the reality, saying, "the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded."
Trump did not explain one of his most explosive allegations, that federal taxpayer money was somehow being stolen, nor did he detail what involvement he was suggesting on Cummings' part.
"Why is so much money sent to the Elijah Cummings district when it is considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States," the president wrote. "No human being would want to live there. Where is all this money going? How much is stolen? Investigate this corrupt mess immediately!"
White House officials did not immediately respond to requests for clarification. A spokesman for Cummings had no comment and referred to the congressman's Twitter posts.
Mayor Bernard Young of Baltimore said in a statement Saturday that it was "completely unacceptable" to "denigrate a vibrant American City like Baltimore." He added, "Mr. Trump, you are a disappointment to the people of Baltimore, our country and the world."
Brandon Scott, the City Council president, said the president is in a better position to help than anyone else, but if he does not, then his words will only motivate those in Baltimore to do so themselves. "When everyone says we're done, we come back," he said in an interview. "That's Baltimore's story."
Statements from a spokesman for the state's Republican governor and from the lieutenant governor defended Cummings' district and its people.
A spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, defended the area and its residents. In an email, Michael Ricci wrote, "Baltimore City is truly the very heart of our state, and more attacks between politicians aren't going to get us anywhere."
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, also a Republican, tweeted: "Mr. President, realDonaldTrump, I have substantial policy differences with Congressman RepCummings. However, I hope your criticism is not directed at the many good and hard working people who live in the district."
Democratic presidential contender Kamala Harris, a senator from California, said she is "proud" that her campaign is headquartered in Cummings' district. "Baltimore has become home to my team, and it's disgraceful the president has chosen to start his morning disparaging this great American city," she said.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who served in the House alongside Cummings for years, tweeted praise for his colleague and condemned the president.
"Elijah Cummings grew up facing racist bullies like Trump and learned to confront them with qualities unknown to Trump: courage and integrity," Van Hollen wrote. "The great people of Baltimore have something Trump craves but will never have as he degrades the Office of the President: dignity."
In a monologue about Trump's comments, CNN's Victor Blackwell pointed out that Trump has often used the word "infested" to refer to places where black and brown people live. To Trump's contention that "no human being" would want to live in Baltimore, Blackwell said that he does.
"I don't want to sound self-righteous, but people get up and go to work there," he said. "They care for their families there. They love their children who pledge allegiance to the flag just like people who live in districts of congressmen who support you, sir. They are Americans, too."
Information for this article was contributed by Peter Baker of The New York Times; by Zeke Miller and Brian Witte of The Associated Press; and by Colby Itkowitz of The Washington Post.
A Section on 07/28/2019