WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump was hit with new accusations of racism after he attacked a prominent African-American lawmaker and branded the majority black city of Baltimore an "infested mess".
Mr Trump's outburst came in a series of sharply worded tweets aimed at Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings - a high-profile critic of Mr Trump's administration whose district covers much of Baltimore.
"Cumming (sic) district is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," the President wrote on Saturday, calling it "the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States".
"No human being would want to live there," he said - in an attack ostensibly provoked by Mr Cummings' criticism of the harsh conditions facing would-be asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.
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.
The top Democrat in Congress, Ms Nancy Pelosi, accused Mr Trump of a "racist" attack on a "champion... of civil rights and economic justice, a beloved leader in Baltimore, and deeply valued colleague".
"We all reject racist attacks against him," wrote Mrs Pelosi - who was born in Baltimore and whose father served as mayor of the city.
A CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY
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.
DEMOCRATIC REPRESENTATIVE ELIJAH CUMMINGS, whose district covers much of Baltimore.
Former vice-president Joe Biden - the Democratic frontrunner to challenge Mr Trump next year - 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."
There was similar condemnation from half a dozen White House candidates including Mr Cory Booker who tweeted footage of a black CNN anchor and Baltimore native who broke down on air while reacting to the attack on his hometown.
"This is painful. This is a moral, defining moment in America," wrote Mr Booker. "Silence is toxic complicity."
Democratic 2020 contender Kamala Harris, who like Mr Booker is black, said she was "proud" to have her campaign headquarters in Mr Cummings' district and called Mr Trump's attack "disgraceful".
The city's Democratic Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young - also black - rejected Mr Trump's rhetoric, calling it "hurtful and dangerous".
"It was a total insult," he told reporters. "We're not going to ignore anyone degrading Baltimore city and its effective leadership, no one."
A historic port city of 600,000 people, Baltimore presents a mixed picture with both handsome and affluent neighbourhoods, and 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 is 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.