Mulvaney defends Trump's 'infested' remarks in grilling from Chris Wallace

Acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump's latest plan to undermine Social Security Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report MORE defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE's remarks calling a black congressman's district a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," stating during an interview with Fox News's Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceSunday shows - White House stresses Trump's determination in China trade fight as GOP challenger emerges Klobuchar knocks Trump: 'This negotiating by tweet hasn't been working' Mnuchin: Trump's 'as determined as ever' on China trade fight MORE that there was nothing racist about the president's comments.

Mulvaney, who has also served as Trump's budget director, told Wallace that Trump was right to raise the issue and that "it has absolutely zero to do with race."

Under pointed questioning from Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," Mulvaney said Trump criticized Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsGOP Oversight report says Interior head met with group tied to former clients Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision Nikki Haley voices 'complete support' for Pence MORE (D-Md.) because Cummings had criticized the border and said he would have done the same thing if the criticism had come from Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: YouTube disables 200+ accounts over Hong Kong misinformation | Lawmakers sound alarm over Chinese influence efforts | DHS cyber agency details priorities | State AGs get tough on robocalls | DOJ busts online scammers Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision YouTube disables over 200 accounts amid protests in Hong Kong MORE (D-Calif.), a white congressman who is Jewish.

Mulvaney, a former congressman, also doubled down on Trump's remarks, saying, "If I had poverty in my district like they have in Baltimore, if I had crime in my district like they have in Chicago, if I had homelessness in my district like they have in San Francisco, and I spent all of my time in Washington, D.C., chasing down this Mueller investigation, this bizarre impeachment crusade, I'd get fired." 

"I think the president is right to raise that," he added. "It has absolutely zero to do with race."

Wallace said there was a "clear pattern here," stating that before Trump's inauguration, he had said another black congressman, Rep. John LewisJohn LewisCummings invites Trump to visit Baltimore House Democrat knocks Trump's Cummings tweet: 'This guy is a terrible, terrible human being' George Wallace's daughter: 'I saw Daddy a lot' during 2016 election MORE (D-Ga.), should spend time in his "crime infested" district.

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He then noted the president's recent criticisms of four Democratic congresswomen, who are all members of minority groups. Trump also used the word "infested" while criticizing those lawmakers, stating that they should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Three of the women were born in the United States.

"Infested. It sounds like vermin. It sounds subhuman. And theses are all six members of Congress who are people of color," Wallace said. 

Mulvaney responded by saying he thought Wallace was "spending way too much time reading between the lines."

"I'm not reading between the lines. I'm reading the lines," Wallace interjected. 

Mulvaney responded that if Schiff said the same thing as Cummings, Trump would be talking the same way about him.

When Wallace expressed doubt that Trump would talk about Schiff's "crime-infested, rodent-infested district," Mulvaney said that "he very well could" and that it would have zero to do with Schiff being Jewish.

Pressed on whether he was comfortable with Trump's rhetoric, Mulvaney asked Wallace if he'd seen pictures of Cummings's district. 

A short time later, the two shifted subjects to this week's testimony by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE.

The president launched the controversy with Cummings on Saturday by tweeting about the lawmaker, who as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee has led investigations into the administration. 

"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,” Trump wrote in the tweet.

“His district is considered the Worst in the USA as proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded. Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place,” Trump added.