After President Donald Trump attacked U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland on Saturday as a “brutal bully” and called his 7th District “disgusting, rat and rodent infested," officials, residents and political commentators jumped to the defense of the congressman and his Baltimore home.
Some went so far as to call Trump’s tweets racist as the president again took to Twitter to vilify his political enemies, using inflammatory language that some believe stokes the nation’s racial divisions as he prepares to run for reelection in 2020.
“Elijah Cummings grew up facing racist bullies like Trump and learned to confront them with qualities unknown to Trump: courage and integrity. The great people of Baltimore have something Trump craves but will never have as he degrades the Office of the President: dignity,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland tweeted.
Trump’s detractors flooded Twitter to support the city and Cummings. The topic “#WeAreBaltimore” was trending at No. 1 on Twitter with more than 14,000 tweets by Saturday evening. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California tweeted that Cummings is “a champion in the Congress and the country for civil rights and economic justice." Pelosi, a Baltimore native, also stressed that “we all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership.”
Trump’s opponents for the White House, U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, also unleashed their disdain for the president’s remarks. “Donald Trump’s tweets are ugly and racist,” Warren tweeted.
It started as many Trump Saturday morning Twitter attacks do as the president watched a “Fox & Friends” segment in which a Republican strategist called Cummings’ district the “most dangerous” in America and showed video of boarded-up rowhouses and trash-strewn alleys in West Baltimore.
The report followed a July 18 congressional hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Cummings chairs looking at conditions at facilities holding children suspected of crossing the border illegally. Cummings lashed out during the hearing at Kevin McAleenan, head of the Department of Homeland Security, for what he described as conditions in which children were left to defecate on themselves and did not have access to a shower.
After the Fox segment suggested that Cummings’ district was worse off than the border, Trump took to Twitter criticizing Cummings and his district, which encompasses much of Baltimore, but reaches into Baltimore and Howard counties, and is 53 percent black.
“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. His district is considered the Worst in the USA......," Trump tweeted.
Calling the district “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” Trump tweeted Cummings should spend more time in Baltimore to “help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”
Trump doubled-down on his attacks on Cummings Saturday night, retweeting videos that purportedly showed blighted homes and neighborhoods in West Baltimore. “@RepCummings, why don’t you focus on your district!?” Trump commented while sharing a video from a self-identified pro-Trump activist. In a separate tweet he accused Cummings of “trying to hurt innocent people through ‘Oversight.’”
Trump also questioned the amount of money being sent to the Maryland’s 7th District “when it is considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States.” Questioning where “all this money is going,” and “how much is stolen,” he demanded an investigation into “this corrupt mess immediately!”
The White House on Saturday morning didn’t immediately respond to requests for clarity on Trump’s accusations against Maryland’s 7th district, but his comments drew praise from some of his supporters. A few cited Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders comments from 2015 that likened the poverty in West Baltimore to a “Third World” country.
Cummings responded to Trump’s comments in a series of tweets just after 11 a.m.
“Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors,” Cummings tweeted.
Calling that fight his “constitutional duty,” Cummings also called Trump to task to support legislation to let the government negotiate directly for lower prescription drug prices.
Cummings shared those comments a day after he held a hearing on the prices of prescription drugs and “the financial hardships that families across the nation, and in Baltimore, are facing,” Cummings said.
Cummings was far from alone in defending himself and the city. Residents, Baltimore natives and politicians took the president to task for his comments.
Fighting back tears, an emotional CNN anchor Victor Blackwell, who was born and raised in the city, called out the president’s repeated use of the word “infested” while attacking minority lawmakers.
“Donald Trump has tweeted more than 43,000 times, he’s insulted thousands of people, many different types of people, but when he tweets about infestation, it’s about black and brown people,” Blackwell said.
In attacking Cummings’ district, Trump targeted not only Baltimore, where the congressman grew up, but a district whose southern edge stretches to Columbia and to rolling horse country and million-dollar homes in the north. It includes the Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital, the headquarters of the NAACP and one of the nation’s wealthiest black-majority districts, with above average levels of education.
“Where does he get off talking about people like that?” said Sandra Jones, 73, seated at a picnic table in Druid Hill Park for an annual neighborhood cookout and reunion for residents who grew up in Sandtown-Winchester.
No matter what Trump said, she said she was proud to be from the city. The president, on the other hand, she called “the worst embarrassment this country has ever had.”
To the Rev. William Sewell of Edmondson Village, Trump’s comments were more of the same — racist, hateful remarks from a president known for writing off whole countries, for telling congresswomen of color to go back to where they came from.
“I’m not surprised at all at anything he does,” Sewell said.
At a roadside coffee shop in Sparks called the Filling Station, barista Garrett Moore said there weren’t many rats in the area, although "there are cute field mice.”
Baltimore leaders gathered Saturday evening outside City Hall to condemn the president’s remarks.
"We can never allow nasty and hurtful rhetoric to go unchecked,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said.
Earlier on Twitter, the mayor called it "completely unacceptable for the political leader of our country to denigrate a vibrant American City like Baltimore, and to viciously attack U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings a patriot and a hero.”
While blasting Trump’s remarks, City Council president Brandon Scott said he would welcome aid from the White House to address Baltimore’s problems such as crumbling infrastructure and substandard public housing.
“Stop tweeting,” he advised Trump. “Let’s start working.”
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. took to Twitter to defend Cummings and Baltimore. Olszewski said ”President Trump’s most recent attack on Baltimore and Congressmen Cummings is an attack on basic decency. His words and behavior should have no place in our politics or society."
Mike Ricci, spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, stated Saturday afternoon that “Baltimore City is truly the very heart of our state, and more attacks between politicians aren’t going to get us anywhere.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations joined the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP in denouncing Trump’s tweets.
“It’s no secret that Donald Trump will resort to racism to deflect and distract the public, but this outrageously racist tirade is the latest reminder that he is unfit to serve as president of the United States,” said Zainab Chaudry, CAIR director of Maryland outreach. “He clearly believes he can attack one of the nation’s great cities because he perceives it to be primarily African-American — just another example of his racist and white supremacist mindset.”
Chaudry noted that Trump doubled down this week on his recent attacks on the four Democratic congresswomen of color known as “The Squad,” urging them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
“These latest tweets reaffirm the NAACP Maryland State Conference’s position echoing the call of the National NAACP that this president must be impeached,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference. “A nation is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, and we are ashamed of his rhetoric. America deserves a president who lifts our cities up, not one who heaps trash talk on them.”
Cummings has said he has only had a single one-on-one meeting with Trump — and it was awkward.
The two met in 2017 to discuss rising prescription drug prices. As he emerged from the meeting, Cummings said Trump was well versed in that issue. But he also said he told the president that the language he uses to describe African Americans has been “hurtful” and “insulting.”
Cummings also disputed Trump’s statement to The New York Times that Cummings told him he would “go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”
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Cummings said at the time that the conversation went differently.
“During my meeting with the president and on several occasions since then, I have said repeatedly that he could be a great president if — if — he takes steps to truly represent all Americans rather than continuing on the divisive and harmful path he is currently on,” Cummings said.
In a recent interview with The Baltimore Sun, Cummings was asked if he has a hard time keeping himself composed in tense moments with members of the Trump administration.
“I try to set an example for all of my [committee] members,” he said. “I’ve discovered that it’s very hard to get anything done if you don’t have civility.”
Cummings said the time he spends in his district keeps him centered.
“I live a very simple life,” he said. “I love jazz, so I’ll go to a club and listen to some jazz. And my church is the center of my life.” He attends New Psalmist Baptist Church.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.