A top White House aide on Sunday defended President Donald Trump's disparaging tweets about an influential black Democratic congressman and his Baltimore district as a justified response to the lawmaker's criticism of administration border policies.
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney insisted that Trump's comments were not racist but simply a reaction to what he perceives to be inaccurate statements by Republican Elijah Cummings about conditions in which children are being held in detention at the US-Mexico border.
At a hearing last week, Cummings accused a top administration official of wrongly calling reports of filthy, overcrowded border facilities "unsubstantiated." "When the president hears lies like that, he's going to fight back," Mulvaney told "Fox News Sunday."
On Saturday, Trump lashed out in tweets against Cummings, the powerful chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, claiming his Baltimore-area district is "considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States."
It was the president's latest assault on a prominent lawmaker, and the people he represents, two weeks after he sparked nationwide controversy with racist tweets directed at four congresswomen of colour.
Mulvaney insisted that Trump would criticize any lawmaker, no matter their race, in a similar way if he felt the person spoke unfairly about his policies. "It has absolutely zero to do with race," he said. "This is what the president does. He fights, and he's not wrong to do so."
Cummings is leading multiple investigations of the president's governmental dealings. He responded directly to Trump on Twitter, saying, "Mr President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbours. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents."
Cummings has also drawn the president's ire for investigations touching on his family members serving in the White House.