Following President Donald Trump’s spate of attacks on several lawmakers of color, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) opened up about facing racism as a child in Maryland.
Speaking to NBC News on Thursday, Cummings said that during the president’s Greenville, North Carolina, rally the night before, he was reminded of his own attempt at age 11 to integrate a swimming pool.
“We were taunted. Stones were thrown at us. Bottles,” he recalled. “And they totally said the same words. They said, ‘Go back to your neighborhood. Go back to where you came from.’”
At his Wednesday rally, Trump took aim at Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the same lawmakers he’d targeted earlier in the week in tweets urging them to “go back” to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
When he named Omar, who was born in Somalia and immigrated to the U.S. as a child, the crowd erupted into shouts of “Send her back!”
Cummings wondered if the president was even aware of the impact of his words.
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“We in America cannot afford that,” the congressman said. “We are supposed to be the beacon of hope, the beacon of light, a place where people come when they’re trying to make their lives better. And I don’t know if the president fully understands how deeply … painful those kind of statements are. I don’t think he understands how incredibly divisive they are.”
Though Trump allowed his supporters’ chants to continue for a 13-second pause in his speech, the president tried to distance himself from the bigotry on Thursday, telling reporters that he was “not happy with it.”
“I disagree with it but, again, I didn’t say that. They did,” Trump said.
His message to the president now, Cummings said, is that “we don’t want to be divided.”
“We want a nation that is united, and we need to be about the work that the people sent us here to do,” said Cummings, “and all of this becomes a distraction from us getting that work done.”