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President Donald Trump on Saturday lashed out at Rep. Elijah Cummings, who has been fiercely critical of conditions in detention centers on the U.S. southern border, attacking the congressman's district using degrading language that is likely to further inflame racial tensions.
Cummings, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, challenged acting head of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan during a hearing last week on conditions at the southern border and children who have been separated from their parents.
The congressman said he was beginning to wonder whether Homeland Security had an "empathy deficit" toward migrant families and their children. Cummings represents Maryland's 7th congressional district, which includes a large part of Baltimore and is majority black.
Trump called Cummings a "brutal bully" for criticizing Border Patrol. The president called Cummings' district in Baltimore a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" and "far worse and more dangerous" than the conditions at the southern border.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned Trump's attacks as racist.
Cummings, responding to Trump, said he has a "constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch" and has a "moral duty to fight for my constituents."
Homeland Security's own internal watchdog, in a report obtained by NBC News, found a border facility in El Paso was dangerously overcrowded and half of migrants were held in a parking lot. Overcrowding was so bad border agents were arming themselves against possible riots, according to the report.
During a visit by Vice President Mike Pence to two border stations in Texas, migrants behind a chain link fence shouted "no shower, no shower!" to news crews. Pence said he saw evidence of a "system that was overwhelmed."
Trump has repeatedly lashed out members of Congress who are people of color. Earlier this month, he told progressive congresswomen who have been critical of his administration to "go back" where they came from.
Though he didn't mention them by name in his original Twitter post, he was likely referring to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, who are women of color. Ocasio-Cortez, Presley and Tlaib were all born in the United States. Omar was born in Somalia and became a U.S. citizen when she was a teenager.
During a rally in North Carolina, Trump continued to lash out at Omar and a crowd of his supporters chanted "send her back." The president later tried to distance himself from his supporters' chants.
Cummings, in a July 21st interview with ABC's "This Week," said the chants reminded him of how civil rights activists were treated by racist opponents during the 1960s. When asked if he thought Trump was a racist, Cummings said, "Yes, no doubt about it. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt."
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, in a mostly party-line vote, passed a resolution condemning Trump's attacks against the congresswomen as racist. Four Republicans voted for the resolution.
Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, introduced a resolution to start impeachment proceedings against the president, saying Trump's "racist comments" have "legitimatized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color." The House tabled that resolution in a 332-95 vote.
Trump's rhetoric has also sparked an international response. World leaders such as former British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also condemned Trump's attacks on the congresswomen.