President Donald Trump lashed out against Rep. Elijah Cummings in a series of tweets on Saturday, calling the Maryland congressman “a brutal bully” and the majority-black district he represents “disgusting.”

The early morning screed against Cummings, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, appeared to be in response to Cummings’s criticism of policies at the border during recent hearings. It also follows Cummings calling on Americans to “pay attention to what is going on” and to protect democracy in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony Wednesday.

“Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous,” Trump wrote during Saturday morning’s tweetstorm.

He went on to call Cummings’s district the “worst in the USA,” a “rat and rodent infested mess,” and a “dangerous & filthy place.” Trump also accused the congressman of corruption.

In response, Cummings tweeted: “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch.” He then called on the president to support legislation lowering prescription drug prices.

Trump’s attack on Cummings mirrors another series of racist tweets the president aimed at Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), collectively known as “the Squad,” earlier this month.

In one of his tweets, he told the progressive lawmakers — American citizens, three natively born and one a refugee — to “go back” to the “crime infested” countries they’d come from. Those messages sparked national outrage and prompted the House to pass a resolution formally condemning his remarks.

Critics denounced those tweets as racist, and on Saturday the response to Trump’s attack on Cummings was much the same. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted that “We all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership.”

And members of the Squad weighed in, too:

Maryland-based politicians also tweeted their support for Cummings and his district following the Twitter tirade. US Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) praised his colleague’s “dignity:”

And the mayor of Baltimore released a statement calling Trump’s statement “hurtful and dangerous” and defending Cummings as a “patriot and a hero.”

Trump and Cummings have been at odds before. In 2017, the president claimed that the congressman had privately told him, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”

Cummings disputed that version of events: “I have said repeatedly that he could be a great president if — if — he takes steps to truly represent all Americans rather than continuing on the divisive and harmful path he is currently on.”

But it is unclear what, exactly, sparked the degree of vitriol that appeared on the president’s Twitter feed on Saturday.

It may have been in reaction to a July 18 hearing about conditions in border detention facilities. After acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan said that his agency was doing its “level best,” Cummings’ tone shifted: “What does that mean? What does that mean? When a child is sitting in their own feces, can’t take a shower?” he asked. “None of us would have our children in that position. They are human beings.”

Trump may have also been frustrated with Cummings’s comments following Mueller’s testimony.

While both could have been on his mind, as many (including Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz and The New York Times) have pointed out, Trump’s tweets were sent after a segment comparing conditions in Baltimore to the southern border aired on Fox & Friends, a favorite show of the president’s, early on Saturday morning.

This would not be the first time the president was influenced by a Fox News segment; in early July he threatened to investigate Google following a piece on the network critical of the company, and as Gertz notes, Trump’s racist squad tweets seemed to be issued after they were attacked on Fox as well.

Trump has made similar statements before, and they play well with his base

Cummings has served as the representative for Maryland’s 7th District since 1996, when his predecessor, Kweisi Mfume, stepped down to serve as president of the NAACP. The district, which encompasses middle- and upper-class suburbs as well as parts of Baltimore, has been majority-African American since 1973. According to Census data, it is currently 53 percent African American, with a median household income higher than the national average.

This is not the first time that Trump has used racist language and invoked images of crime and poverty when describing black communities. When Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) declined to attend the presidential inauguration in 2017, the then-president-elect said that the congressman, a civil rights icon, “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart.” Last year, he referred to Haiti and several nations in Africa as “shithole countries” as he sought to slow migration from those places.

Vox’s Aaron Rupar pointed out on Twitter that Trump “uses the language of ‘infestation’ when talking about places populated by black and brown people:”

And CNN host Victor Blackwell made a similar argument Saturday morning. The Baltimore native became visibly emotional as he responded to the portion of Trump’s tweet that said that “no human would want to live” in Cummings’ district.

“You know who did [live there], Mr. President? I did,” Blackwell said. “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.”

But while many of Trump’s opponents expressed outrage and anger, it is worth noting that Trump’s base is energized by this style of attacks.

Following the attacks on the Squad, Trump attended a rally during which, for 13 seconds, the crowd chanted “Send her back!” And a USA Today/Ipsos poll conducted in the days following Trump’s racist Squad tweets found 57 percent of Republicans agreed with Trump’s words. A Reuters poll found Trump’s approval among Republicans went up 5 points following the tweets.

As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias explains, Trump’s racist attacks on lawmakers of color may be part of a strategy to leverage racial conflict and win white voters:

Arguments about the minimum wage or rolling back fuel efficiency standards or even identity-related issues focused on abortion or LGBTQ rights are more comfortable terrain for many Democrats for basic mathematical reasons. Most Americans aren’t rich. Most Americans these days aren’t highly observant Christians. Big political conflicts about these topics position Democrats are defending the interests of the majority group against the GOP’s support for a minority group. Arguments about race and racism do the reverse — most American voters are white, and for that reason, Democrats have traditionally tried to reduce the salience of racial conflict in American politics.

Much of Trump’s politics is essentially dedicated to making that kind of deracialization strategy untenable, with actions and rhetoric that are so inflammatory that they inescapably push racial conflict to the top of the agenda.

Trump’s racist rhetoric also has the opposite effect. It unites Democrats of different ideological stripes around a common foe. But they also resonate with people of color on a personal level. Following the president’s attack on the squad, many shared stories of hearing, implicitly or explicitly, similar sentiments. One person who shared such a story was Rep. Elijah Cummings himself.

Speaking Sunday on ABC’s The Week, he said the president’s remarks reminded him of his own experiences when attempting to integrate a swimming pool in Baltimore as a child.

“I heard the same kind of chants, ‘Go home, you don’t belong here,’” he said. “When the president does these things, it brings up the same feelings that I had over 50 some years ago, and it’s very, very painful.”

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