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Trump won’t back down on ‘go back’ tweets

Updated July 15, 2019 - 2:46 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump roiled Capitol Hill Monday with continued criticism of four freshman lawmakers of color, demanding they apologize for their policies and language.

Democrats called the attacks racist, bigoted and misogynistic toward the women, Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. The four fired back at an afternoon news conference, calling Trump’s remarks xenophobic, bigoted and blatantly racist.

Trump took to Twitter to double down on his attack on the four congresswomen, one day after he told them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”

The biggest problem with that suggestion is that only one of four freshman, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who was born in Somalia, is an immigrant. (She became a citizen when she turned 17.) The other three, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts were born in the United States.

In his new attack, Trump wrote: “When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said.

“So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!”

At a White House event, Trump said he would not apologize for the remarks, and instead urged the lawmakers to leave the country. “Well, they’re very unhappy. I’m watching them. All they do is complain,” Trump said. “So all I’m saying is, ‘If they want to leave, they can leave.’”

Nevada representatives react

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said “Donald Trump’s bigoted attacks over the weekend were intended to divide this country.”

“That’s why it’s important for leaders on both sides of the aisle to speak up. It shouldn’t be so hard to denounce xenophobia and racism,” she said.

And Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., a former synagogue president, said that when it comes to debating partisan policies, “we can disagree on the issues in a civil manner.”

“But let’s be clear: telling someone to ‘go back to where they came from’ is hateful and racist. Period,” Rosen said.

All four of the congresswomen in question won election in 2018, swept into office in a blue wave midterm election that was largely seen as a referendum on the president’s policies that included a tax cut largely seen as benefiting wealthier Americans, and efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Firing back

Pressley encouraged her supporters to “not take the bait,” and said she and the others targeted by Trump had broad support in the country.

“Our squad is big,” she said, using the nickname preferred by the four women. “Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world. … And given the size of this squad in this great nation, we cannot, we will not, be silenced.”

Omar said Trump’s attack was “the agenda of white nationalists.”

“This is his plan to pit us against each other,” she said. “So it is time for us to stop allowing this president to make a mockery out of our Constitution. It’s time for us to impeach this president.”

Ocasio-Cortez said Trump attacked her and the others because he can’t debate the issues.

“Weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policies,” she said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told her Democratic caucus on Monday that “the president went beyond his own low standards using disgraceful language about members of Congress.”

Pelosi — who herself has been criticized by the four women as insufficiently progressive and even racially biased — said on Sunday that when the president tells “four American congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms (that) his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again.”

Republicans condemn tweets

Even a few Republicans ventured into the debate. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., after calling the women “a bunch of communists,” said the president should “aim higher” and attack their policy proposals and not them personally.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, the only African American Republican serving in the House, told CNN the president’s comments about the four women were “racist and xenophobic.”

A GOP rival also jumped in.

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, called the president’s comments “deplorable and beneath the dignity of the office.”

“We all, including Republicans, need to speak out against these kinds of comments that do nothing more than divide us and create deep animosity — maybe even hatred,” Kasich said.

White House backs Trump

But the administration defended Trump’s remarks.

Asked whether Trump’s comments were racist, Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, told reporters he had been responding to “very specific” comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who was born in Somalia, and was not making a “universal statement.”

“I don’t think that the president’s intent any way is racist,” said Short, repeatedly pointing to Trump’s decision to choose Elaine Chao, who was born outside the country, as his transportation secretary.

“The administration is welcoming of all nationalities into the United States,” he said.

Omar and Tlaib are the first two Muslim women elected to serve in Congress. Omar faced a series of rebukes over comments she made on the clout of the pro-Israeli lobby in America that were criticized as anti-Semitic.

Tlaib was caught on camera earlier this year telling activists that they would impeach Trump, but using an expletive in her comments about the president.

The group has called for the elimination of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has carried out the administration’s zero-tolerance policy that resulted in family separations at the Southwest border.

Trump shrugged off criticism of his tweets and social media rants.

“It doesn’t concern me,” Trump said, adding that while many people saw the tweets as racist, “many people agree with me.”

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. Review-Journal White House Correspondent Debra J. Saunders and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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