Rep. Elijah Cummings on Wednesday accused President Donald Trump of using “racist language” and “encouraging reprehensible behavior,” addressing the latest spate of mass shootings that have shaken and devastated the country.
“Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior. It only creates more division among us,” the Maryland Democrat said at a National Press Club luncheon, pleading with the Senate to take up House-passed gun control bills including an expansion of background checks.
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Cummings, who chairs the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has served in the House since 1996, called on the president to act as the “consoler-in-chief” as he travels to Dayton and El Paso on Wednesday, amid opposition to his visits there from local Democratic leaders.
He also dismissed Trump’s recent attacks on him and his home city of Baltimore as distractions, and he invited Trump to visit Baltimore and tour the city with him. Cummings called his congressional district one of the most diverse in the country, which includes “the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor.”
Cummings, 68, has become the subject of intense attacks from the president, who called Baltimore “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” More recently, Trump appeared to make light of a break-in at Cummings’ home, tweeting: “Really bad news! The Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad!”
In condemning Trump’s rhetoric, Cummings said he regularly receives death threats.
Trump’s diatribes were prompted by Cummings’ forceful criticisms of the Trump administration’s immigration policies and the conditions at overcrowded detention centers along the southern border. During a hearing last month, Cummings forcefully rebuked Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan for the ongoing humanitarian crisis, in particular the reports that children were unable to bathe or brush their teeth.
In an emotional moment, Cummings also addressed the separation of children from their parents at the southern border. He said his 10-year-old niece asked him about the practice last weekend: “Uncle Elijah, are they going to put us in cages?”
“We are better than that,” said Cummings, who was nearing tears as he described the interaction.
He invoked the Trump administration’s resistance to his committee’s various investigations, which have targeted everyone from the president’s Cabinet officials to his family members to Trump himself.
“We are truly, truly, truly a great country. But we have to keep it. We have to keep it,” Cummings later said. “We are engaged in a fight for the soul of our democracy.”
Cummings’ committee has been looking into the hush money payments to women who alleged that they had affairs with Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election, as well as the administration’s immigration policies and its efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. His committee also recently authorized subpoenas for emails and text messages of White House officials, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
In his Twitter attacks, Trump called Cummings a “brutal bully,” and the president’s GOP allies have slammed the Democrat-led committee’s investigations as politically motivated and without merit.
Amid growing support for a formal impeachment inquiry, Cummings has remained opposed to launching one, despite the administration’s refusal to turn over documents and allow witness interviews. He said the time “may come” for impeachment, and he reiterated that he is leaning on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s judgment.
Like other Democrats who have resisted backing a formal inquiry, Cummings said his stance on the issue would change if Trump defies a court order.