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Trump rejects charges of racism after accusations of 'hate agenda'

US President Donald Trump. Source: EPA

Donald Trump has been accused of making racist comments after calling the majority-black city of Baltimore an 'infested mess'.

US President Donald Trump pushed back on against charges that he was racist and promoting a "hate agenda" to win reelection following his attacks on a prominent black lawmaker and his constituency.

In a series of tweets, Trump on Saturday took aim at Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, a high-profile critic of his administration whose district covers much of the majority black city of Baltimore, Maryland.

After calling Cummings's district a "rat and rodent infested mess" where no one would choose to live, Trump insisted on Sunday that he was just telling things as they are.

"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," Trump said, without providing evidence to support his claim.

The morning diatribe ignited a storm of criticism, less than two weeks after the House of Representatives condemned Mr Trump for "racist" comments targeting four first-term Democratic congresswomen who are ethnic minorities.

Former vice president Joe Biden - the Democratic frontrunner to challenge Mr Trump in 2020 - called out the president directly on Twitter. 

"It is despicable for you to attack him and the people of Baltimore this way," Mr Biden wrote. "Once again you have proved yourself unfit to hold the office. A President is supposed to lift this nation up. Not tear it down."

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Trump reiterates criticism

Later in the day, he reiterated his criticism of the congressman, calling him "racist" and saying, "His radical 'oversight' is a joke!" -- a reference to Cummings's leadership of the House Oversight Committee, which has launched investigations into Trump administration policies.

Trump's diatribes ignited a storm of criticism and came less than two weeks after the House of Representatives condemned Trump for "racist" comments targeting four first-term Democratic congresswomen who are from ethnic minorities.

Trump's remarks on Cummings and the congresswomen are seen as a calculated but risky appeal, both to the disgruntled white, blue-collar base that helped get him elected in 2016, and to other whites who haven't decided whom to support in next year's elections.

Many in the country see his remarks as blatantly racist. Coming from anyone else, they would certainly spell political doom.

Approval rating surges

Yet after Trump's tweets attacking the four non-white lawmakers known as the "Squad," his approval among Republicans rose five points to 72 percent in a Reuters-Ipsos poll.

One of the lawmakers, Rashida Tlaib, charged Sunday that Trump does not even care about doing things to help the country.

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"Look, our president has a hate agenda. He doesn't have a policy agenda and that is what he falls down on," Tlaib said on CNN.

In an op-ed piece for The Washington Post late Friday, 148 African Americans who served under former president Barack Obama pledged their support for the four lawmakers "as well as all those currently under attack by President Trump."

Obama, who has rarely spoken out since leaving office in 2017, retweeted the piece on Saturday.

Chief of staff defends Trump says remarks have 'zero to do with race'

Backed by the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, Cummings has used his committee to launch investigations into the Trump administration, including its policies on undocumented migrants caught at the border with Mexico.

The president's chief of staff Mick Mulvaney argued Sunday that Trump's attack on the congressman is justified because Cummings had criticized him and said things that were not true.

"I think the president's right to raise that it has absolutely zero to do with race," Mulvaney told Fox News.

But leading Democrats laid into Trump over his latest comments.

"The president is, as he usually is, or often is, disgusting and racist. He makes these charges with no base at all," said Congressman Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Nadler said Trump is trying to divert attention from congressional probes into Russian election meddling and obstruction of justice by the president.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reiterated his assertion that Trump is a racist: "That is a disgrace and that is why we're going to defeat this president," he told CNN.

Sanders also said he does not believe Trump's race-based strategy is going to work.

"I think at the end of the day the American people understand that whether you're black, white, whether you're Latino, Asian American, Native American, we need an agenda that works for all of us," said Sanders. 

'I go and fight for my neighbours'

A historic port city of 600,000 people, Baltimore presents a mixed picture, with both handsome and affluent neighbourhoods and large poverty-stricken districts. It has one of the country's highest murder rates. 

Mr Cummings' district is more than 50 per cent black - and the city of Baltimore as a whole more than 60 per cent.

Mr Cummings himself tweeted: "Mr President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbours. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents."

As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Mr Cummings - one of the most prominent African Americans in Congress - has launched investigations into Trump administration policies, including reports of poor treatment at migrant detention centres. 

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