Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi has accused US President Donald Trump of “racist attacks” in his tweets about an African-American lawmaker.
Mr Trump attacked Democratic Rep Elijah Cummings and his Maryland district on Twitter.
Mr Cummings was a “bully”, Mr Trump wrote, for criticising the treatment of migrants at the US-Mexico border.
As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Mr Cummings has instigated a series of investigations into the Trump administration’s policies, including its handling of migrants at detention centres.
Ms Pelosi led Democratic legislators in defending Mr Cummings and condemning Trump’s tweets.
The tweets, Ms Pelosi wrote, were “racist attacks” on Mr Cummings, whose district’s population is more than 50% black according to US census data.
A prolific critic of Mr Trump, Mr Cummings responded in kind, tweeting: “It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”
Baltimore’s mayor, Bernard “Jack” Young, called Mr Trump “a disappointment to the people” of his city, and to “our country, and to the world”.
“It’s completely unacceptable for the political leader of our country to denigrate a vibrant American City like Baltimore, and to viciously attack US Representative Elijah Cummings a patriot and a hero,” Mr Young tweeted.
Other Democrats, including presidential candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, have derided Mr Trump’s tweets.
The response from Republican Party representatives has been muted so far.
The episode has echoes of the rhetoric Mr Trump used in tweets lambasting four Democratic congresswomen of colour earlier this month. That was also widely criticised as racist.
Mr Trump suggested the congresswomen – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar, all of whom are US citizens – should “go back” to the “crime infested” places they came from.
What sparked Mr Trump’s tweets?
Last week, Mr Cummings lashed out at acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and conditions at migrant detention centres at a congressional hearing.
In a heated exchange with Mr McAleenan, Mr Cummings demanded “improvement” at border facilities.
Mr Cummings, who represents Maryland’s 7th congressional district, suggested the Trump administration had “an empathy deficit” in its handling of migrants.
Posting to Twitter on Saturday, Mr Trump appeared outraged at Mr Cumming’s comments.
The tweets also come days after a Democratic-led congressional committee voted to subpoena the private communications of senior White House officials.
Mr Cummings accused the Trump administration of not keeping communications records in compliance with federal law.
The committee’s investigation is one of several being pursued by House Democrats into the president and his administration.
What reaction has there been to Mr Trump’s tweets?
Democratic lawmakers have reacted with indignation, fuelling the bitter antagonism towards Mr Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter.
Elizabeth Warren, a presidential candidate for 2020, joined Ms Pelosi in characterising Mr Trump’s remarks as racist.
“Donald Trump once again is a racist who makes ever more outrageous racist remarks. It is insulting, both to the congressman and to the people he represents,” Ms Warren said in a video shared by The Hill.
Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner to challenge Trump in 2020, scorned the president’s tweets as an example of why he is “unfit to hold the office”.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Ms Tlaib, two of the so-called “squad” congresswomen who Mr Trump previously told to “go back”, rallied around Mr Cummings.
“Yo Trump, Hands off #ourchairman @RepCummings who is centered in American values that you will never understand. He is a fighter for the people and a leader you will never be,” Ms Tlaib wrote.
More on race in the US
Ms Ocasio-Cortez hailed Mr Cummings as “a legendary coach who brings the best out of everyone”, adding that “he makes the country better”.
California Senator Kamala Harris, whose national 2020 campaign headquarters is located in Baltimore, also defended the city.
“Baltimore has become home to my team and it’s disgraceful the president has chosen to start his morning disparaging this great American city,” Ms Harris posted.
In a later tweet, Mr Trump doubled down on his criticism of Mr Cummings, who he accused of “trying to hurt innocent people through oversight”.
The president retweeted a video, shared by actor Terrence Williams, which purportedly shows a large mound of rubbish dumped in front of a house in West Baltimore.
Mr Trump urges his followers to “take a look” at the “badly run district”, signing off the tweet with the hashtag #BlacksForTrump2020.