CNN anchor left on verge of tears
CNN news anchor Victor Blackwell teared up on live TV today as he reacted to Donald Trump's latest controversial Twitter diatribe.
Mr Trump has been accused of racism again after attacking an African American congressman and labelling his district "a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess".
Overnight, the President unleashed on Democrat Elijah Cummings, whose district in Maryland includes parts of Baltimore. The majority of his constituents are black.
Mr Cummings is chairman of the House Oversight Committee in Congress. In that role, he has launched a number of investigations into the Trump administration, and led criticism of its treatment of undocumented immigrants in detention centres near the Mexican border.
On July 18, he grilled acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and accused the department of having an "empathy deficit" during a dramatic congressional hearing. He took exception to Mr McAleenan's claim the department was doing its "level best".
"What does that mean? What does that mean when a child is sitting in their own faeces, can't take a shower? Come on, man. What's that about? None of us would have our children in that position. They are human beings," Mr Cummings said.
That comment appears to be the main reason for Mr Trump's antipathy towards Mr Cummings, which ignited in his extraordinary Twitter rant overnight.
"Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men and women of Border Patrol about conditions at the southern border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous," Mr Trump said.
"As proven last week during a congressional tour, the border is clean, efficient and well run, just very crowded. Cummings' 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 and filthy place.
"Why is so much money sent to the Elijah Cummings district when it is considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States? No human being would want to live there. Where is all this money going? How much is stolen? Investigate this corrupt mess immediately!"
....As proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded. Cumming 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— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2019
That was the context for Blackwell's emotional appearance on CNN.
The host started by reminding his viewers of Mr Trump's recent, similar attacks on minority congresswomen.
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"Just two weeks ago President Trump attacked four minority congresswomen. 'Why don't they go back to the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came?' Reminder, three of them were born here; all of them are American," Blackwell said.
"Donald Trump has tweeted more than 43,000 times. He's insulted thousands of people, many different types of people, but when he tweets about infestation, it's about black and brown people."
Blackwell had to pause for 10 seconds to compose himself before continuing, his voice wavering.
"The President says, about Congressman Cummings' district, that no human would want to live there. You know who did, Mr President? I did. From the day I was brought home from the hospital until the day I left for college," he said, tears welling in his eyes.
"And a lot of people I care about still do. There are challenges, no doubt, but people are proud of their community.
"People get up and go to work there, they care for their families there, they love their children, who pledge allegiance to the flag just like people who live in districts of congressmen who support you, sir. They are Americans too."
He then cut to a commercial break.
President Trump tweeted that Rep. Elijah Cummings’ district is a “rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”— CNN (@CNN) July 27, 2019
It’s @VictorBlackwell’s home district.
“When he tweets about infestation, it's about black and brown people,” Blackwell says. pic.twitter.com/VeCIIvQ4SJ
Mr Trump's tweets did not come out of nowhere. He published them 15 minutes after Fox News aired a segment critiquing Mr Cummings' outburst at the hearing and showing footage of rubbish on the streets of Baltimore.
"Democrats like Elijah Cummings say they care about how migrants are being treated at the border, but what about the families and people in their own districts?" host Jedediah Bila said, introducing the segment.
"Congressman Cummings was elected to represent west Baltimore, but living conditions at the border are better than most areas in his district; the city lined with abandoned buildings and trash on the streets."
The footage was taken by a Republican strategist, Kimberly Klacik, who told Fox News Mr Cummings' district was the "most dangerous" in the United States and said she saw abandoned homes filled with rubbish that were "attracting rodents".
The President repeated several of her points in his tweets, and later shared the footage with his followers, so it is quite clear he was inspired by the news segment.
Elijah Cummings spends all of his time trying to hurt innocent people through “Oversight.” He does NOTHING for his very poor, very dangerous and very badly run district! Take a look.... #BlacksForTrump2020 https://t.co/seNVESZUht— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2019
Mr Cummings' colleagues in the Democratic Party leapt to his defence and accused Mr Trump of racism.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Mr Cummings a "beloved leader in Baltimore" and a champion of civil rights.
"We all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership," she said.
The party's presidential candidates were also quick to respond.
"Representative Cummings is one of the finest people I've ever served with. It is despicable for you to attack him and the people of Baltimore this way. Once again you have proved yourself unfit to hold the office," said the frontrunner, former vice president Joe Biden.
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One of his rivals, Beto O'Rourke, said Americans were "so much better than this intolerance and hatred".
"In his words and his actions, Trump has been the most openly racist president we've had in modern history," Mr O'Rourke said.
Mr Cummings himself reacted on Twitter. He chose to highlight his work trying to lower prescription drug prices for his constituents.
Just yesterday, I held a hearing on the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs and the financial hardships that families across the nation, and in Baltimore, are facing.— Elijah E. Cummings (@RepCummings) July 27, 2019
But Blackwell's response to the President is the one that has resonated.
Trump, who recently attacked four congresswoman of color because he said they trash-talked America, calls one of America’s oldest cities “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” https://t.co/mm2bLBJQBq— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) July 27, 2019
POTUS claimed his issue with the Squad was how they talked about America. Cummings district is part of America. https://t.co/LF5YrsvvxF— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) July 27, 2019
“No human being would want to live there.” Imagine the reaction from the right-wing outrage machine if @IlhanMN had made that comment about a slice of America. They quite literally would tell her to “go back.” https://t.co/f1jFULnjqm— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) July 27, 2019