Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney strongly defended President Trump'sof Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and his majority-African American Maryland district, denying the president's controversial comments were designed to stoke racial animus.
"Does the president speak hyperbolically? Absolutely. Have we seen this type of this reaction from his before? Yes," Mulvaney said on "Face the Nation" Sunday. "And you will again because he pushes back, he fights back when he feels like he's attacked."
"I understand that everything that Donald Trump says is offensive to some people," he added later.
Mr. Trump on Saturday morning leveled a series of attacks on Cummings, calling the powerful chairman of the House Oversight Committee a "brutal bully" for denouncing squalid conditions at migrant detention facilities near the border, which the president claimed were "clean" and "well run."
The president also targeted Cummings' district, which encompasses some of Baltimore's predominantly African American neighborhoods, as well as wealthier suburbs in Howard County. "Cumming [sic] 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," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter Saturday.
Mulvaney suggested the president attempting to call out "lies" from Cummings about the conditions of migrants in U.S. custody. He said the Maryland Democrat's comments were not conducive to a "civilized debate" about potential solutions to deal with the months-long but dwindling surge of migrants heading towards the U.S.-Mexico border.
The acting chief of staff accused Cummings of focusing on investigating potential misconduct by the president and the repercussions of of his policies, instead of alleviating the "abject" poverty Mulvaney said is prevalent in Baltimore.
"I think the president wants folks to know that, look, instead of dealing with those issues, Mr. Cummings is spending his time on this impeachment inquiry — which we all know is going nowhere," he said. "Democrats have a chance to actually focus on things that matter. Instead they're working on scandal and I think the president is doing everything he can to highlight that."
Pressed on the fact that Mr. Trump was again singling out a minority lawmaker and casting his district as a "dangerous" place where "no human being would want to live," Mulvaney said he could see why some could perceive the president's comments as racist.
"I understand why, but that doesn't mean that it's racist," he said. "The president is pushing back against what he sees as wrong. It's how he's done in the past and he'll continue to do in the future."