Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates on Sunday labeled President Donald Trump a racist who was trying to distract using divisive political rhetoric targeting Rep. Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore, while the president doubled down and a top deputy said he was merely "pushing back against what he sees as wrong."
Top Democrats condemned Trump's weekend attack on Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who Trump on Saturday tweeted was "a brutal bully" after the lawmaker, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, took the acting Homeland Security secretary to task over the administration's use of family separations. Trump referred to Baltimore -- part of which Cummings represents -- as "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" in which "no human being would want to live."
"The president is as he usually is or often is disgusting and racist," Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "He makes these charges with no base at all."
Democratic presidential candidates blasted the president as he tweeted similar attacks overnight and on Sunday. His tweets throughout the weekend appeared to be inspired by a Republican strategist's appearance on Fox News in which she described Cummings' district as a mess; Trump shared her videos with his tens of millions of social media followers.
Cummings responded on Twitter on Saturday, saying, "Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. 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."
On Sunday afternoon, Trump continued tweeting about Cummings.
"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," he tweeted. "His radical “oversight” is a joke!"
Earlier on Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders told CNN's "State of the Union" it was "a disgrace" that the U.S. had a "racist president who attacks people because they are African Americans." Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro also labeled Trump's attack "racism," saying on CBS's "Face the Nation" it was reflective of a "pattern"; spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson labeled it demagoguery; and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that Trump was trying to distract and Democrats should not take the bait. All three are Democrats running for president.
The president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said Trump's rhetoric was not racist and that the president was "pushing back against what he sees as wrong." He said Democrats were blowing the situation out of proportion.
"I understand that everything that Donald Trump says is offensive to some people," Mulvaney told CBS News.
The only African American Republican serving in the House, Rep. Will Hurd, of Texas, told "This Week" that he would not "be tweeting this way" and that one should not call an entire city rat infested.
"I wouldn't be doing those. I wouldn't be tweeting this way," Hurd said. "But I think they're different."
Few Republicans have publicly commented on Trump's latest salvo.
"Well -- I -- I -- look, I didn't do the tweets," Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., told NBC's "Meet the Press." "I can't talk about why he did what he did."
After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended Cummings on Saturday, saying, "We all reject racist attacks against him," Trump on Sunday morning attacked her district.
"Speaking of failing badly, has anyone seen what is happening to Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco," Trump said. "It is not even recognizeable [sic.] lately. Something must be done before it is too late."
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., one of four congresswomen of color who drew the president's ire two weeks ago, told CNN that Trump "has a hate agenda" as opposed to a "policy agenda."
Last Sunday, on "This Week," Cummings -- after a week of controversy following attacks on Tlaib and three other freshman congresswomen -- was asked by Stephanopoulos, "Do you believe President Trump is a racist?"
Cummings responded, "I believe he is -- yes, no doubt about it. And -- and I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt."
"What it does when Trump does these things, it brings up the same feelings that I had over 50 something years ago, and it's very, very painful," Cummings said in the same interview. "It's extremely divisive and I just don't think this is becoming of the president of the United States of America, the leader of an entire world."