WASHINGTON -- The acting White House chief of staff on Sunday said that President Donald Trump targeted the district of a Maryland congressman because the president believes his critics are neglecting serious problems back home.
Mick Mulvaney said Trump's words were exaggerated for effect.
"Does the president speak hyperbolically?" Mulvaney said. "Absolutely."
A day earlier, Trump had tweeted that the majority-black Baltimore district of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings is a "rodent-infested mess" where "no human being would want to live."
"Do you understand that that is offensive to the Americans who do live there?" host Margaret Brennan asked on CBS' Face the Nation.
"I understand that everything that Donald Trump says is offensive to some people," Mulvaney replied, arguing that "the folks on the left" were too quick to accuse the president of racism.
When asked if he understood why some people interpreted "no human being would want to live there" as racist, Mulvaney replied: "I understand why, but that doesn't mean that it's racist. The president is pushing back against what he sees as wrong. It's how he's done it in the past, and he'll continue to do it in the future."
He asserted that Trump's barbs were in reaction to what the president considered to be inaccurate statements by Cummings about the conditions in which children are being detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. At a hearing last week, Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, cited reports of filthy, crowded border facilities and said children were sitting in their own feces.
"That's wrong -- in fact, it's misleadingly wrong," Mulvaney said. "It's the type of thing that really breaks down a civilized debate about how to address the crisis at the border. And the president didn't like it."
Mulvaney added that Trump's point in criticizing conditions in Baltimore was that congressional Democrats are "focusing on scandal in Washington, D.C.," instead of helping residents of their districts.
But on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace argued that "there is a clear pattern" of the president using the term "infested" on Twitter to refer to the districts of two black congressmen, and also using it when he wrote that four minority-group congresswomen should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."
"'Infested.' It sounds like vermin. It sounds subhuman," Wallace said. "And these are all six members of Congress who are people of color."
"I think you're spending way too much time reading between the lines," Mulvaney replied.
"I'm not reading between the lines," Wallace said. "I'm reading the lines."
Mulvaney argued that Trump's words had nothing to do with the race of his critics. He said that if House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., had made the same comments that Cummings did about conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, then Trump would criticize Schiff and possibly his Los Angeles County district.
"It has zero to do with the fact that Adam is Jewish and everything to do with Adam would just be wrong if he were saying that," Mulvaney said. "This is what the president does. He fights, and he's not wrong to do so."
In a tweet after returning to the White House from his Virginia golf club late Sunday afternoon, Trump defended his Saturday tweets, saying there was "nothing racist" about "stating plainly what most people already know."
Cummings, he added, "has done a terrible job for the people of his district, and of Baltimore itself. Dems always play the race card when they are unable to win with facts. Shame!"
He later tweeted that Cummings is "racist" and that "his radical 'oversight' is a joke!"
Some Democrats said Sunday that Trump's remarks about minority-group lawmakers have gone too far.
Julian Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio and a housing secretary in former President Barack Obama's administration, said it is "absolutely" important to call out Trump's rhetoric for what it is, "which is racism."
"Like a lot of Americans, I'm not somebody that likes to use that term or that is quick to call somebody a racist," Castro, who is running for president, said on Face the Nation. But "there is a pattern here," he added.
"This guy is the biggest identity politician that we have seen in the last 50 years, and he engages in what's known as racial priming -- basically using this language and taking actions to try and get people to move into their camps by racial and ethnic identity," Castro said. "That's how he thinks he won in 2016, and that's how he thinks he's going to win in 2020."
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., announced Sunday morning that he has had enough of the president's rhetoric and is unfollowing him on Twitter.
"His feed is the most hate-filled, racist, and demeaning of the 200+ I follow, and it regularly ruins my day to read it. So I'm just going to stop," Murphy tweeted, before adding: "I can't believe I just typed that."
Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, declined to criticize Trump.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, instead put the focus on Cummings.
"I can't talk about why [Trump] did what he did, but I'm very disappointed in people like Congressman Cummings, who is attacking Border Patrol agents that are trying to do their job when the Democrats won't give them the resources to do it," Scott said.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said he wouldn't have tweeted what Trump did about Cummings' district, but that those tweets were different from the president's earlier tweet telling the congresswomen to "go back." Hurd, the only black Republican in the House, had been among the most vocal critics of those remarks and was one of four Republicans who voted for a resolution condemning them.
"Chairman Cummings is someone I worked with closely on all kinds of legislation," Hurd said. "He is someone that cares passionately about his community and has been working tirelessly his entire adult life on behalf of his country and his community, and he is someone -- he can defend himself."
Elsewhere on Sunday, the chairman of the committee with the power to launch impeachment proceedings said that he believes Trump "richly deserves impeachment."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., appearing on CNN's State of the Union, said Trump "has done many impeachable offenses. He's violated the law six ways from Sunday."
"But that's not the question," Nadler continued. "The question is, can we develop enough evidence to put before the American people?"
Many House Democrats are convinced that Trump ought to be impeached, but the consensus among party leaders is that they should try to secure more records and witness interviews through the courts before embarking on such a politically incendiary move. The House has the power to impeach, but the trial would be held in the GOP-controlled Senate, which is likely to defeat such an effort.
Nadler's comments came on the heels of former special counsel Robert Mueller's congressional testimony on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nadler called the testimony "an inflection point, in that it broke the administration's lie, the attorney general's lie, that the president was fully exonerated by the Mueller report."
As the leader of the committee that would launch the impeachment hearings, Nadler is the most important Democrat yet to publicly state his support for such hearings. But he gave no indication Sunday that he would cross House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has regularly resisted the calls from her caucus for impeachment proceedings.
Speaking on Meet the Press, Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said Sunday that Trump could tip the scales toward impeachment if he continued "to obstruct the Congress in its lawful and constitutional duty" to conduct its investigations and oversight of the administration.
"If we can't get adequate answers from the court in time, that in itself will be an impeachable offense," Schiff said.
But, the Democrat continued, that is not the only consideration in determining whether or when to impeach Trump.
"There's no making the case to the cult of the president's personality that is the Senate GOP, but we should at least be able to make the case to the American people," Schiff said. "I want to make sure that that's true before we go down this path."
Information for this article was contributed by Zeke Miller and Hope Yen of The Associated Press and by Felicia Sonmez, Karoun Demirjian and Colby Itkowitz of The Washington Post.
A Section on 07/29/2019