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

Acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyMulvaney: 'Politics can and should influence foreign policy' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing MORE defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech 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) WallaceChris Wallace: Allegations against Trump 'far broader than the Clinton impeachment' Fox's Chris Wallace: IG report headline is 'It didn't find the things that Bill Barr and Donald Trump alleged' Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests 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 CummingsTrump request for Ukrainian 'favor' tops notable quote list Impeachment can't wait Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings 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 SchiffRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Trump rails against FBI, impeachment during Pennsylvania rally Democrats reach cusp of impeachment 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 LewisIsakson talks up bipartisanship in Senate farewell speech Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny Democrats ramp up oversight efforts over 'opportunity zone' incentive 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 MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump 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.