Trump allies defend attacks on Cummings amid Democratic denunciations

President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE's critics on Sunday called his attacks on House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Cher offers to pay legal fees for security guard fired for repeating racial slur Baltimore mayor looks to rename downtown courthouse after Cummings MORE (D-Md.) racist while the president's allies defended him and Trump himself doubled down on his remarks.

It was the second Sunday in a row to be dominated by a debate over an attack by the president on a lawmaker of color and his record on racial issues.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyWhite House officials work to tamp down controversies after a tumultuous week Sunday shows — Mulvaney seeks to tamp down firestorm over quid pro quo comments, Doral decision Mulvaney says he thinks Trump knows people thought Doral decision looked 'lousy' MORE said the tweets, in which Trump called Cummings' majority-black district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live,” had “absolutely zero to do with race.”

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When Fox News's Chris Wallace pressed Mulvaney on "Fox News Sunday," Mulvaney insisted Trump’s tweets were simply his response to Cummings's forceful questioning of acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan over conditions in migrant detention facilities and that the president would say the same about a white lawmaker in a similar situation.

"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,” Mulvaney, a former congressman, added. Mulvaney’s former South Carolina district has a median income of about $9,000 less than Cummings’s district, according to census data.

Wallace continued to grill Mulvaney, noting that in 2017, Trump made similar comments about Rep. John LewisJohn LewisThe 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Detroit police chief calls Tlaib facial recognization idea 'racist' Ossoff raises 0k in first three weeks of Senate bid, campaign says MORE (D-Ga.), who is also black, as well as his attacks on four progressive minority congresswomen, which began with him telling them to “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Mulvaney countered that Wallace was “spending way too much time reading between the lines."

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) was not as forceful in defending the tweet but responded to questioning by NBC’s Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddButtigieg says he wasn't comfortable with Clinton attack on Gabbard Buttigieg: Trump undermining US credibility 'is going to cost us for years and years' Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter MORE by criticizing Cummings’s handling of border issues.

“It’s not lost on me that you’re harsher on Elijah Cummings than on the president and what he has done,” Todd responded.

Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGOP lawmaker: Trump administration 'playing checkers' in Syria while others are 'playing chess' Sunday shows — Mulvaney seeks to tamp down firestorm over quid pro quo comments, Doral decision Hurd: No Ukrainian officials have told State Department 'they felt like their arms were being twisted' MORE (R-Texas), the only African American Republican in the House, simply said he “wouldn’t be tweeting this way” but told ABC’s George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosWhite House officials work to tamp down controversies after a tumultuous week Democratic senator: Pompeo 'lives in a parallel alternate universe' on Syria Pompeo on Mulvaney admission of quid pro quo: 'I never saw that in the decisionmaking process' MORE he viewed the tweets about Cummings as distinct from Trump’s “go back” tweets. Hurd was one of only four Republicans to vote for a resolution condemning the earlier tweets.

Trump himself doubled down on his statements, saying late Saturday that it's "sad" the longtime congressman has done "so little" for the city he represents.

"So sad that Elijah Cummings has been able to do so little for the people of Baltimore," Trump said in a tweet, before claiming that "statistically, Baltimore ranks last in almost every major category. Cummings has done nothing but milk Baltimore dry, but the public is getting wise to the bad job that he is doing!"

He followed up early Sunday by saying there is "nothing wrong" with pointing out that Cummings has done a "very poor job."

"The Democrats always play the Race Card, when in fact they have done so little for our Nation’s great African American people. ... Elijah Cummings has failed badly," Trump said. 

Democrats appearing on the Sunday shows uniformly condemned the tweets, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDem committee chairs blast Trump G-7 announcement Top Democrat holds moment of silence for Cummings at hearing Barr to speak at Notre Dame law school on Friday MORE (D-N.Y.) also blasting Trump for implying money intended for Cummings’s district was being stolen.

"The president is, as he usually is or often is, disgusting and racist. He makes these charges with no base at all,” Nadler said on ABC’s “This Week,” saying a second resolution condemning the tweets “wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' Warren says she will unveil plan to finance 'Medicare for All' Ocasio-Cortez says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make MORE (I-Vt.), appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” called Cummings one of the most “decent” members of Congress and added, “It's unbelievable that we have a president of the United States who attacks American cities, who attacks Americans, who attacks somebody who is a friend of mine.”

Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make Ocasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment Ocasio-Cortez tweets endorsement of Sanders MORE (D-Mich,) one of the first two Muslim women in Congress and one of the targets of Trump’s earlier tweets, also defended Cummings on Sunday.

"He continues to say things about American cities all across this country. Our president has a hate agenda. He doesn’t have a policy agenda," Tlaib said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union.”

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, a 2020 presidential candidate, said the attacks represented Trump’s strategy of “racial priming” to attempt to shore up his base.

“That’s how he thinks he won in 2016, and that’s how he thinks he’s going to win in 2020,” Castro added, repeating an earlier characterization of Trump as “the biggest identity politician we have seen in the last 50 years.”