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On the attack: Trump targets Cummings for second straight day

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Rep. Elijah Cummings was assailed repeatedly Saturday and Sunday by President Donald Trump, who in one tweet referred to him as “racist Elijah Cummings.” | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

White House

The president’s scathing and scolding words spark condemnation, as well as increased debate over his use of divisive rhetoric.

Updated


President Donald Trump resumed his vilification of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) early Sunday, barely eight hours after concluding a string of attacks against the African American chairman of a powerful committee investigating the president.

The weekend fusillade gave more ammunition to those who have denounced the way Trump condemns political foes of color, and led to new debate over his use of discordant rhetoric for political gain, whatever the consequences.

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The president opened Sunday by tweeting: “Someone please explain to Nancy Pelosi, who was recently called racist by those in her own party, that there is nothing wrong with bringing out the very obvious fact that Congressman Elijah Cummings has done a very poor job for his district and the City of Baltimore.”

He added: “The Democrats always play the Race Card, when in fact they have done so little for our Nation’s great African American people. … Elijah Cummings has failed badly!” The tweets continued as the day went on, with Trump even labeling him “racist Elijah Cummings” at one point.

Trump had attacked Cummings on Saturday with a series of tweets that began in the late afternoon and ended shortly before midnight. “Cummings has done nothing but milk Baltimore dry, but the public is getting wise to the bad job that he is doing,” he said in one of them. In another, the president claimed: “His district is considered the Worst in the USA.” He also called Baltimore “rat and rodent infested.”

Cummings, who was first elected in 1996, is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. His majority-black district is based in Baltimore — a city with both wealthy areas and pockets of poverty — but also includes suburban and rural areas, including much of Howard County.

The tweets about Cummings followed a pattern of scathing Trump attacks on minority members of Congress — from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and her allies in recent weeks to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in the early days of his presidency. Trump’s weekend tweets particularly echoed his attacks on Lewis in January 2017: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart.” Trump has also mocked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on a number of occasions, challenging her intelligence.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), an ally of Omar’s and another of his recent targets, responded Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “Our president has a hate agenda. He doesn’t have a policy agenda.”

But acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said the president was merely defending himself against what he called “lies” by Cummings about the situation at the Mexican border, as well as calling attention to improper efforts by House Democrats to investigate him.

He also told host Chris Wallace that the president’s tweets were a necessary way of keeping the record straight, not, as Wallace suggested, “the worst kind of racial stereotyping.”

“It has absolutely zero to do with race,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney took the same tack on the tweets with host Margaret Brennan on CBS’ “Face the Nation”: “Does the president speak hyperbolically? Absolutely. Have we seen this type of reaction for him before? Yes, and you will again because he pushes back. He fights back when he feels like he’s attacked and what — what Mr. Cummings said this week was wrong.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Trump’s attacks on Cummings were warranted because of the lawmaker’s criticism of Border Patrol agents.

“Congressman Cummings has sat there and attacked our Border Patrol agents, all right?” Scott said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “This reminds me of what happened to soldiers coming back from Vietnam.”

Others, including The Baltimore Sun, rallied to the defense of Cummings, Baltimore and Maryland’s 7th Congressional District.

“It’s not hard to see what’s going on here,” The Sun wrote in an editorial published Saturday evening. “The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream.”

It added that “we would above all remind Mr. Trump that the 7th District, Baltimore included, is part of the United States that he is supposedly governing. The White House has far more power to effect change in this city, for good or ill, than any single member of Congress including Mr. Cummings. If there are problems here, rodents included, they are as much his responsibility as anyone’s, perhaps more because he holds the most powerful office in the land.”

Praising his former House colleague on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said: “It’s unbelievable that we have a president of the United States who attacks American cities, who attacks Americans.” Sanders said of Cummings: “He fights every day to improve life in his community.”

Former Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), also speaking on CNN, said the president needed to stop using such divisive rhetoric. “Anything less than an apology is unacceptable to me,” she said.

She added: “The president of the United States is supposed to represent all Americans.” (Love, who is African American, was mocked by Trump when she lost reelection in November 2018: “Mia Love gave me no love. And she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”)

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said, “I wouldn’t be tweeting this way.”

“Chairman Cummings is someone I worked with closely on all kinds of legislation,” Hurd added. “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.”

Hurd was one of the few elected Republicans to condemn Trump’s recent “go back” attacks on Omar, Tlaib, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

Calling him “disgusting and racist,” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Trump was trying to draw attention from other matters.

“He’s just trying to change the subject, which is what he usually does,” said Nadler, a frequent Trump critic.

Critics of Trump noted that his tweets about Cummings’ district did not give a full and accurate picture of life there. His district, for instance, has a higher per-capita income and higher median home values than the national average.

Cumming defended himself on Saturday night.

“Mr. President, I go home to my district daily,” he wrote on Twitter. “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.”

Pelosi, the House speaker, also stuck up for her colleague on Saturday, tweeting that he was “a champion in the Congress and the country for civil rights and economic justice, a beloved leader in Baltimore, and deeply valued colleague.” The California Democrat added: “We all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership.”

Trump followed his morning attacks Sunday on Cummings with some vitriol aimed at Pelosi:

“Speaking of failing badly, has anyone seen what is happening to Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco,” he tweeted Sunday. “It is not even recognizeable lately. Something must be done before it is too late. The Dems should stop wasting time on the Witch Hunt Hoax and start focusing on our Country!“



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