Donald Trump kicked off his weekend with a stinging attack on Elijah Cummings, the Democratic chair of the House oversight committee, that opponents including House speaker Nancy Pelosi said was another example of the president deploying racist invective for political ends.
Apparently responding to the Fox News magazine show Fox & Friends, the president called Cummings a “brutal bully” and said his congressional district was both “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and “the worst run and most dangerous [district] anywhere in the United States”.
In response, Cummings said that though it was his “constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch”, it was his “moral duty” to fight for his constituents.
Cummings, who is African American, represents Maryland’s seventh congressional district, covering parts of Baltimore and neighbouring counties. The district is majority African American and has been held by Democrats since 1953.
Trump said Cummings should “help clean up this very dangerous and filthy place”. Some observers linked his tweets to widely condemned remarks he reportedly made in the Oval Office last year, calling El Salvador, Haiti and some African nations “shithole countries”.
The president later doubled down on his attacks, accusing Cummings of doing “nothing but milk Baltimore dry”.
Furthermore, the president’s vitriolic attack on a senior African American Democrat came two weeks after he told four Democratic congresswomen of colour they should “go back” to the countries they came from. Only one of the congresswomen was not born in the US and all are American citizens.
Critics observed that Trump’s attacks on “the Squad” were meant to mobilise his base and force Democrats to defend progressives who advocate policies possibly unpopular in swing states in next year’s election.
Responding to Trump on Saturday, Cummings also drew attention to a hearing on Friday about “skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs and the financial hardships that families across the nation, and in Baltimore, are facing”. Trump should work with him on the problem, he said.
Pelosi voiced support for Cummings, saying: “We all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership.”
Campaigning for the presidential nomination in New Hampshire, the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren said Trump’s “racist tweets” were “beyond insulting. It is disgusting. This president brings shame to himself and to the White House.”
Baltimore’s mayor, Jack Young, called Trump “a disappointment to the people” of his city and to “our country, and to the world”. Cummings, he said, was a “patriot and a hero”.
The president of the Maryland State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Gerald Stansbury, said Trump should be impeached, as “America deserves a president who lifts our cities up, not one who heaps trash talk on them”.