Cummings defends Baltimore, urges end to 'racist' rhetoric

Cummings defends Baltimore, urges end to 'racist' rhetoric
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In a fierce defense of his hometown of Baltimore, Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (D-Md.) on Wednesday called for an end to "racist language" and "hateful rhetoric" tarring the political discourse, condemning President TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE's recent attacks on him and the city he represents.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., just a hop from the White House, Cummings largely avoided mentioning the president by name. But the target of his words was unmistakable as he drew connections between the "hateful, incendiary comments" from government leaders, the rise of violent white nationalism and the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, which led to the deaths of 31 people over the weekend. 

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"Those at the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior. It only creates more division among us, and severely limits our ability to work together for the common good," Cummings said.   

"As a country, we finally must say that enough is enough — that we are done with the hateful rhetoric, that we are done with the mass shootings, that we are done with the white supremacist domestic terrorists who are terrorizing our country and fighting against everything America stands for," he continued. 

"We are all sick of this."

In his attack on Cummings last month, Trump suggested the Maryland Democrat has done nothing to help his district in and around Baltimore, which the president vilified as “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” 

“No human being would want to live there,” Trump tweeted.

Faced with a backlash from Democrats rushing to Cummings's defense, Trump doubled down, suggesting without evidence that there’s widespread financial corruption in Cummings’s district and asking the House Oversight and Reform Committee chairman to “investigate himself.”

Other than his own tweets, Cummings has been notably silent since Trump's attacks while fellow Democrats rushed to his defense. Though he made brief remarks from a public event in Baltimore over the weekend, when he defended Charm City as a vibrant and reputable place to live, his speech Wednesday marked his most expansive comments on the incident to date.

Cummings acknowledged the problems facing parts of his district, which occupies poverty-stricken parts of downtown Baltimore, as well as surrounding suburbs "where the richest of the rich are," in Cummings' description.

He invited Trump to visit, in order to see for himself, and even offered to chaperon the president.

"I want him to come and look at my entire city," he said. "I'll ride with him for hours if he asks to."

Cummings said he's tried to extend such an offer, with no luck.

"I can't get to him," he lamented.

Cummings noted his background as the son of sharecroppers who rose through poverty, was elected to Congress and now chairs the powerful Oversight and Reform Committee, which has launched a series of investigations into Trump and his administration. He said Trump's "blatant attacks" on Baltimore are designed only "to divide us as a country and to distract us."

"What bothers me the most is that we have people stepping on the hopes of our children," he said. "Our children must know that we're doing everything we can to have a better future. ... I won't be distracted from doing that." 

The weekend shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have launched a debate within the Democratic Caucus about whether Congress should cut short its long summer recess and return to Washington to tackle legislation to rein in gun violence and domestic terrorism.

Cummings wasted no time in endorsing an early return.

"When you have people dying — come on now. People are afraid," he said. "We have a responsible to do whatever is necessary to save lives. So I'm prepared to go."

The shootings — combined with Trump's history of incendiary rhetoric, often targeting minority figures — have the attention of other powerful committee heads, as well. 

Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonJan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote Meadows reaches initial cooperation deal with Jan. 6 committee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The omicron threat and Biden's plan to beat it MORE (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is staging a series of roundtable talks and other informal gatherings on the topic of white nationalism and domestic terrorism through the August recess, including a meeting next Tuesday with acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in Jackson, Miss. 

Thompson is also planning a formal hearing of the full committee on the same topic when Congress returns to Washington next month. That hearing will feature testimony from McAleenan, as well as FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Cummings, for his part, said a good first step would be for the president to put an end to his attacks on minorities.  

"You've got people are bent on doing harm ... and I think sometimes these comments push them a little further," he said. 

"It's rarely I go through a week without getting a death threat."

—Updated at 4:18 p.m.