White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney Spars with Fox News' Chris Wallace over Trump's Baltimore Tweets

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney attempted to defend President Donald Trump's description of Baltimore as a "disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess" Sunday, telling Fox News host Chris Wallace that the president's comments did not amount to racism.

"This is what the president does," Mulvaney said at one point in a sit-down interview on Fox News Sunday. "And he's not wrong to do so."

Mulvaney also stated that the president's remarks had nothing to do with race or religion. At one point, the chief of staff — who is also the director of the Office of Management and Budget — insinuated that critics had pounced on Trump's remarks unfairly and would not have done the same had the comments come from a Democratic representative.

The brunt of the interview centered on Trump's habit of invoking terms typically associated with vermin to describe his political foes — in particular those of color.

Aside from his denigrating remarks about Baltimore and Rep. Elijah Cummings, whose district includes the city, Trump has a long history of using metaphors associated with rodents to describe immigrants. And, earlier this month, he tweeted that U.S. representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib should go back to the "crime-infested places from which they came." All four are women of color; Omar is the only one of the group not born in the country.

"Infested—it sounds like vermin," Wallace noted. "It sounds subhuman. These are all members of congress who are people of color."

Mulvaney brushed off this line of questioning, accusing critics of "reading between the lines."

"I'm not reading between the lines," Wallace shot back. "I'm reading the lines."

Trump's remarks about Baltimore elicited outrage from a slew of politicians on Saturday, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other prominent democrats.

"Rep. Elijah Cummings is a champion in the Congress and the country for civil rights and economic justice, a beloved leader in Baltimore, and deeply valued colleague," Pelosi said in a Saturday statement. "We all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership."

Time and time again, studies have shown that the language used to describe migrants can be especially powerful in shaping attitudes, public opinion and eventually policy. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which attempted to block U.S. entry to Chinese laborers, was supported by a campaign that linked Chinese immigrants to the spread of disease. Executive Order 9066, which allowed for the internment of Japanese Americans, also benefited from editorial and op-eds that used charged, animalistic language.

Mick Mulvaney
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney stands in the Oval Office at the White House July 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images