By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan
Trump’s remarks were widely derided as racist and even some of his fellow Republicans spoke out against them.
His Twitter messages on Sunday had said that four left-wing lawmakers, known in Congress as “the squad,” should go back to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
All four of the first-term members of the House of Representatives are U.S. citizens and all but one of them were born in the United States.
Trump did not names them in his Sunday tweets, but he appeared to refer to representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All four have been critical of Trump, as well as of the current Democratic leaders of the House, straining party unity in that chamber.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he was not bothered that his comments were being widely condemned as racist. “If somebody has a problem with our country, if somebody doesn’t want to be in this country, they should leave,” he said.
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been criticized by members of “the squad,” said her party would introduce a resolution condemning Trump’s “xenophobic tweets.” She did not say when a vote would occur.
Such a resolution could put Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress in an awkward position, forcing them either to vote against their party’s leader, who has strong support among conservatives, or to effectively defend his statements.
At the same time, Trump’s attacks elevated the profiles of the four progressive Democrats who have helped push the party’s agenda to the left, causing concern among Democratic moderates heading into the 2020 elections with Trump seeking re-election.
A FEW REPUBLICANS SPEAK OUT
Although most Republicans stayed silent on Trump’s divisive rhetoric, a handful began expressing concern late on Monday.
Texas Representative Will Hurd, the only African-American Republican in the House, told CNN: “The tweets are racist and xenophobic. They’re also inaccurate.”
Tim Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, said in a Tweet criticized Trump for using “unacceptable personal attacks and racially offensive language.”
Senator Susan Collins, a centrist Republican up for re-election in Maine next year, called Trump’s comments “way over the line” and said he should delete them.
None of the top four Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, made any immediate comment.
Trump regularly used racially charged language during his campaign and continued in his presidency. His latest remarks came as some of his other efforts to deal with immigration – a major issue for his conservative base – have faltered.
Anticipated raids targeting illegal immigrants did not occur during the weekend, but the administration on Monday said it would tighten asylum rules.
Trump promised as a candidate to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and that Mexico would pay for it. As president, very little has happened on wall construction and Mexico has resolutely refused to pay for a wall.
In his Sunday tweets, Trump said of the four congresswomen, “Why don’t they 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.”
Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib were born in the United States while Omar, a Somali refugee, arrived in 1992.
Responding to Trump, Ocasio-Cortez told reporters at the Capitol on Monday: “He relies on racism, division and anti-immigrant sentiment to consolidate power because he does not have a positive vision for the future of America.”
She said the attacks were deliberate. “I think there’s a strategy to divide the country because the more this country is divided, the more he benefits from it,” she said.
Trump’s tweets followed days of reported tensions between Pelosi and more progressive caucus members, such as Ocasio-Cortez, as they seek to build on their 2018 midterm victories.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a sometime Trump golf partner and adviser, called the four congresswomen “communist” and “anti-Semitic” on Fox News on Monday, but he also called on Trump to stop making such personal attacks.
“Aim higher … Take on their policies. The bottom line here is this is a diverse country,” he said, adding that he had spoken to Trump.
(Additional reporting by Mohammad Zhargam and Roberta Rampton; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Susan Heavey Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Trott)
"Don't gobblefunk around with words." ~ Roald Dahl