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A Look At President Trump's Conflicts With Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, early in his administration, President Trump actually invited Elijah Cummings to the White House to talk about ways they could collaborate on lowering prescription drug prices. When Democrats took the House in January, they'd hoped that it was an issue they could work on with the president. But the congressman's role as head of the House Oversight Committee has led to the breakdown of their relationship. NPR's Tim Mak joins us now.

Welcome to the studio, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

CORNISH: All right. So let's begin with this acrimony. When did it begin?

MAK: So you'll remember earlier this year at the president's State of the Union, he made clear that he couldn't work with Democrats if they investigated him. Well, Democrats have not set investigations aside. In fact, the House Oversight Committee, led by Cummings, is one of the primary committees investigating the Trump administration. The panel has separate investigations into, for example, the origin of a new citizenship question in the 2020 census and the White House's security clearance process. But it's also personal. Cummings is looking into Trump - the Trump Organization's financial records and whether Trump's daughter and son-in-law have used private email accounts to conduct official White House business. And any efforts with Cummings to address drug costs really seems to have fallen by the wayside. Over the president - over the weekend, Cummings tweeted that he still wanted to work with the president on the issue. I asked Cummings' office if he had any specific response. He still hasn't spoken out on the issue, other than a few tweets over the weekend, and is letting other people defend him.

CORNISH: But Congressman Cummings has been going at this investigation for a long time. So what prompted the weekend tweets?

MAK: So Ayesha touched on the wider context of the president's tweets about African Americans. It's certainly not the first time where the president has used language like infested. But this particular episode appears to stem from a Fox News report about Cummings' district, which ran minutes before Trump began tweeting. Take a listen to how it starts.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")

JEDEDIAH BILA: Democrats like Congressman Elijah Cummings say they care about how migrants are being treated at the border. But what about the families and people in their own district?

MAK: So the president has also called Cummings a brutal bully who has been too critical about the U.S. Border Patrol. Cummings responded on Twitter that it was his, quote, "constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch. His committee also includes a number of other high-profile Trump opponents like AOC and Rashida Tlaib, for example.

CORNISH: That's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Now, the president specifically mentioned the U.S. Border Patrol while lashing out at Cummings over the weekend. So what has the congressman said about the crisis at the border?

MAK: So as chair of the Oversight Committee, Cummings has been really vocal about the treatment of migrant children at the border. Here he is talking about this at a recent committee hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONGRESSIONAL HEARING)

ELIJAH CUMMINGS: They are human beings. And I'm trying to figure out - and I get tired of folks saying, oh, oh, they just beating up on the Border Patrol. Oh, they just beating up on Homeland Security. What I'm saying is I want to concentrate on these children.

MAK: So Democrats and Republicans will generally say that they agree that there is a crisis at the border. But Cummings has been more passionate and vocal than most on the issue, as you've just heard. What this whole episode shows is that the president has clearly decided he's not willing to just let investigations and criticism of his administration go unremarked upon.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tim Mak.

Tim, thanks for explaining it.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.