As the president's Twitter feud with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) widens, a group of African-American pastors has stepped into the fray.
Twenty or so pastors met with the president at the White House Monday afternoon to discuss issues in the African-American community. Afterward, Rev. Bill Owens, president of the Coalition of African American Pastors, told media that the event was not a photo-op but a substantive, two-hour meeting in which the president did a lot of listening.
While the White House may have used the meeting to shield the president from criticism that he's a racist, the pastors did not sugar-coat the country's problem.
"This country needs healing. There is so much division along racial lines--it's worse than it was years ago," Owens told reporters.
When asked if the president is doing enough to "tamp down the flames of racism", Owens noted that the president has addressed prison reform and other issues of importance but added that there's always more to be done.
"I don't think you can do enough," he said. "I think he can do more."
The president's critics say he's making the problem worse. They point to his tweets two weeks ago targeting four progressive Democratic women of color known as "the Squad" and this week's tweets attacking Cummings for neglecting his home district in Baltimore. That came after Cummings attacked the president for conditions on the border.
The president's tweet calling Cummings' district a "disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess" drew condemnation from Maryland's Republican governor Monday. "The comments are just outrageous and inappropriate," he said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton also condemned the president's comments.
But Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, chastised Sharpton and fellow civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, noting their long-time history with the president.
"These are his brothers," she said. "At one time in their lives, they highly regarded the president."
The president's chief of staff says Trump has been reacting in frustration to the Democratic drumbeat of investigation and impeachment talk. But political analysts note that he's once again dominating the news cycle and that may be just what he wants right now.
CBS political director Caitlin Conant said on Faith Nation Monday that she thinks the president is strategically pursuing the conflict. "It's clearly a fight he wants to have and I think we'll see this bleed into the debate in Detroit this week," she said.
Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage tonight and tomorrow night will have to decide how much time they want to spend going after the president and how much time they want to spend making the case for themselves and their policies.