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Trump again accused of racism after Twitter attack on Rep. Elijah Cummings

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.)
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

President Trump unleashed a Twitter tirade Saturday against one of the highest ranking African Americans in Congress and the community he represents, leading to a new round of criticism for engaging in overt racism against political opponents.

Trump, in a series of tweets, called the majority nonwhite Baltimore district of House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and a “very dangerous & filthy place” where “no human being would want to live.”

The remarks seemed to be inspired by a segment on Fox News that compared conditions in a section of Cummings’ district to those on the Mexican border, which Cummings has repeatedly called out as inhumane and illegal.

Trump’s comments stoked an angry response from activists, Democratic leaders and Baltimore residents.

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“I won’t stand for anyone, not even the alleged Leader of the Free World, attacking our great city or our representative to Congress,” said a statement from Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young. “Mr. Trump, you are a disappointment to the people of Baltimore, our country and to the world.”

Many of Trump’s tweets lately have targeted nonwhite opponents with increasingly incendiary language, including his racist suggestion earlier this month that four nonwhite Democratic female lawmakers “go back” to the countries “from which they came.” (Three of them are American-born and the fourth is a Somali-born U.S. citizen.)

“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,” Trump wrote Saturday, demanding the congressman be investigated.

“The Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded,” another Trump tweet said. “Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

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Trump also called the Democratic congressman a “brutal bully” for his investigations into conditions at the border.

Cummings’ Baltimore-area district is 53% African American but also includes predominantly white outlying suburbs, and the Trump voters who live in them. It is also home to several apartment buildings owned by the family of Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor, Jared Kushner. Allegations that the Kushners have used heavy-handed tactics in pressuring low-income tenants have been the subject of national news reports and lawsuits in Baltimore.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) called the president’s remarks “racist attacks” and declared Cummings a champion “for civil rights and economic justice.” Several other lawmakers and presidential candidates joined Pelosi in rallying around Cummings, a beloved colleague and among the most effective lawmakers in the Democratic caucus.

The congressman posted a brief response on Twitter. “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.”

He then renewed an invitation for Trump to join with Democrats in their push to lower prescription drug prices.

Trump’s attack sparked sharp rebukes from Democrats on the presidential campaign trail Saturday.

“Donald Trump once again is a racist who makes ever more outrageous, racist remarks,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said while campaigning in New Hampshire. For Cummings “to be attacked by a president issuing racist tweets is beyond insulting; it is disgusting,” she said.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker compared Trump’s recent attacks on prominent minority lawmakers to dark episodes in American history, including the blacklisting of the McCarthy era and the anti-civil rights crusade led by segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace. “This is a moral, defining moment in America,” Booker wrote. “We must now answer. Silence is toxicity.”

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On the program “Fox and Friends Saturday,” GOP strategist Kimberly Klacik offered an assessment of Baltimore and Cummings nearly identical to what Trump would later announce to his 62.4 million Twitter followers.

“There is a crisis at the border, but there’s also a crisis in Baltimore,” Klacik said. “Congressman Cummings represents the most dangerous district in America.” The segment included footage of streets strewn with garbage.

Klacik came to the president’s defense later in the day. She accused rival network CNN of trying to “turn the light currently shining on #WestBaltimore into a race issue” and posted some of her footage of the city.

Cummings, 68, has a long history in the civil rights movement. At the age of 12 he was violently attacked in Baltimore as part of a group of African American residents trying to integrate a community pool. He told ABC News last Sunday that he heard chants at the time of “go home, you don’t belong here,” similar to the chant that Trump inspired among his supporters at a North Carolina rally after his racist attacks on the four nonwhite congresswomen, three of whom sit on his committee.

Cummings said on the program that he believes Trump is a racist.

The congressman routinely rattles the administration with his committee’s investigations. Last week, he pilloried Trump’s acting head of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, for conditions at the border. He accused the department of treating detainees like animals.

“What does that mean? When a child is sitting in their own feces, can’t take a shower?” Cummings said. “Come on, man. What’s that about? None of us would have our children in that position.”

Cummings accused the department of more successfully tracking the personal property of immigrants than the whereabouts of their children the government detains.

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Such challenges incense Trump. In his attack Saturday on Cummings, the president said the congressman “spends all of his time trying to hurt innocent people through ‘Oversight.’ He does NOTHING for his very poor, very dangerous and very badly run district!” Trump then posted video of a blighted West Baltimore street and the hashtag “#BlacksForTrump2020.”

The president’s words were not welcomed on the streets of Baltimore.

Among the many who came out in support of Cummings is Baltimore artist and filmmaker John Waters, whose film “Hairspray” is considered a love letter to the city. In an email to ARTnews, Waters said, “Give me the rats and roaches of Baltimore any day over the lies and racism of your Washington, Mr Trump. Come on over to that neighborhood and see if you have the nerve to say it in person!”


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