Upping a feud with an influential black lawmaker, President Trump on Sunday assailed Rep. Elijah Cummings as a "racist" over the "rodent-infested mess" in his district while White House aides sought to downplay his comments as frustration over Democrats' unrelenting investigations, the AP reports. In a series of tweets, Trump insisted that his comments Saturday referring to Cummings' majority-black district as a disgusting mess where "no human being would want to live" were not racist. On the contrary, Trump argued, "if racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district, and Baltimore itself, perhaps progress could be made in fixing the mess that he has helped to create over many years of incompetent leadership." Trump added, "His radical 'oversight' is a joke!"
His comments capped a weekend of attacks on Cummings, the latest rhetorical shots against non-white lawmakers since Trump posted racist tweets directed at four Democratic congresswomen of color two weeks ago. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney insisted in two national television interviews Sunday that Trump was not making racist comments. Mulvaney said Trump's words were exaggerated for effect—"Does the president speak hyperbolically? Absolutely"—and meant to draw attention to Democratic-backed investigations of the Republican president and his team in Washington. "Instead of helping people back home, they're focusing on scandal in Washington, DC, which is the exact opposite of what they said they would do when they ran for election in 2018," Mulvaney said. (See how Baltimore responded to Trump's attacks.)