Donald Trump escalates row over 'rat infested' Baltimore and its representative Elijah Cummings

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Democrat congressman Elijah Cummings has been accused by Donald Trump of not doing enough to tackle crime and poverty in Baltimore - AFP
Democrat congressman Elijah Cummings has been accused by Donald Trump of not doing enough to tackle crime and poverty in Baltimore - AFP

Donald Trump has escalated a row in which he accused a black Democrat congressman of failing Baltimore, a city the US president described as a "rat and rodent infested mess" where "no human being would want to live."

Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accused the US president of making "disgusting and racist" remarks and of having a "hate agenda".

There was also anger in Baltimore itself. The local newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, declared: "Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one."

The White House said it was entirely fair for Mr Trump to attack the congressman, Elijah Cummings, because he had been a vocal critic of the president's immigration policies on the US-Mexico border, and had called for him to be impeached.

Mr Trump said: "The Democrats always play the race card, when in fact they have done so little for our nation’s great African American people.

"There is nothing wrong with bringing out the very obvious fact that Congressman Elijah Cummings has done a very poor job for his district and the City of Baltimore."

Rep. Cummings responded that it was his "constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch."

Political analysts said the latest race row was a further attempt by Mr Trump to enthuse his supporters, and push the Democrat party to the left, ahead of the 2020 election.

It followed his recent attacks on the "Squad" - a group of four left-wing Democrat congresswomen. Mr Trump's poll ratings among Republicans rose after that row.

Baltimore, which was at the centre of the new controversy, was the setting for the TV series "The Wire" which, over a decade ago, shocked many with its gritty depiction of drugs and poverty.

More than half of Mr Cumming's district, which includes impoverished neighbourhoods in West Baltimore, is black. 

People there expressed anger at Mr Trump, but also at their own elected city officials for not doing more.

For block after block the area is blighted by dilapidated houses, some overgrown with weeds. Rubbish piles up in alleyways.

The White House said it was entirely fair for Mr Trump to attack the congressman - Credit: REX
The White House said it was entirely fair for Mr Trump to attack the congressman Credit: REX

Yesterday, a man could be seen brazenly urinating on the pavement next to a school. A woman lay comatose on a doorstep, apparently under the influence of drugs.

A prostitute, her teeth rotted by crack, was plying her trade at 10am with her pimp lurking nearby. Down the road two men were passing something furtively between them next to a church. A homeless man held a ragged teddy bear, and sign saying "feed my human".

One enterprising resident had opened a streetside car wash using a burst water main.

"Its worse here than it was 10 years ago. The police don't do anything, they just watch and wait for somebody to get shot," Kenneth Purnell, 52, a newspaper seller, said.

Mr Purnell said he was "proud to be Baltimore" and the president should "represent us," but his anger was mainly directed at the city's mayor, Bernard Young.

"The worst thing is the rats," he said. "They're more than a foot long and the tails longer than that. I've seen tens of them at a time. They come out of the abandoned buildings and run down the street in all the trash. You call the city and no-one comes.

"People are scared to come out of their homes at night. Even in the day, because they're scared. You don't see a lot of people walking around do you?"

Standing outside a ramshackle church with iron bars on the windows, Renard Saunders, 48, who spent years homeless on the streets, said: "It has got worse. It's because drugs are so available.

"We could go across the street right now and and it's right there. Fentanyl has taken over tin the last year. People are addicted to it, that's what's doing the damage. It declines you so fast," he said.

Bernard Young, the Democrat mayor of Baltimore, said on Twitter: "It's completely unacceptable for the political leader of our country to denigrate a vibrant American city like Baltimore. Mr Trump, you are a disappointment to the people of Baltimore, our country, and to the world."

David Simon, the journalist who created The Wire, also attacked Mr Trump. He said: “If this empty-suit, race-hating fraud had to actually visit West Baltimore for five minutes and meet any of the American citizens who endure there, he’d wet himself."

Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump's acting chief of staff, said any congressman who allowed the kind of poverty that existed in Rep. Cummings' district to continue, should be fired.

He said: "I think the president is right to raise that, it has absolutely zero to do with race."

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