WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday he was unhappy with his supporters chanting “send her back” after he assailed a young Democratic congresswoman who he’s suggested should leave the U.S.
Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump claimed he tried to stop the chant, which came after he recited a litany of complaints about Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who fled to the U.S. as a child with her family from violence-wracked Somalia. Video shows the president pausing his remarks, appearing to drink in the uproar and not admonishing his supporters as they chanted.
“I was not happy with it,” Trump said a day later as some prominent Republicans criticized the chant at the president’s re-election event. He said he “would certainly try” to stop the chant should it return at a subsequent rally.
Omar responded defiantly Thursday. She told reporters at the Capitol that she believes the president is a “fascist” and cast the confrontation as a fight over “what this country truly should be.”
“We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president because his policies are a nightmare to us. We are not deterred. We are not frightened,” she told a cheering crowd that greeted her like a local hero at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as she returned from Washington.
The back-and-forth captured the potential impacts of Trump’s willingness to inject racist rhetoric into his reelection fight. Trump’s allies distanced themselves from the chant, fretting over the voters it might turn off in next year’s election and beyond. Democrats, meanwhile, pointed to the episode as a rallying cry to energy and mobilize their supporters to vote Trump out of office.
“We are ready,” Omar said to cheers, before heading to a town hall on Medicare for All.
So far, no GOP lawmakers are directly taking on Trump over the episode.
The muted reactions by congressional Republicans followed a pattern that’s become familiar after numerous incidents in Trump’s presidency when he’s made antagonistic or racially provocative comments.
At the Wednesday campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump tore into four progressive freshman congresswomen who last weekend he tweeted should return to their native countries if they “hate America.” Of the four, who strongly oppose many of Trump’s policies, one is black, one is Hispanic and two are Muslim. All are American citizens, and three were born here.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that such cries “have no place in our party and no place in this country.”
But McCarthy, a staunch Trump ally, said the president’s aversion to Omar is based on ideology, not race.
“This is about socialism vs. freedom,” he said, a refrain Republicans are increasingly using as they begin trying to frame their offensive against Democrats for the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that the “send her back” chant was “ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.”
Rep. Tom Emmer, who heads the House GOP’s campaign organization, told reporters, “There’s no place for that kind of talk. I don’t agree with it.”
But he defended Trump, saying there isn’t “a racist bone in this president’s body” and asserting that Trump “said wrong” what he actually meant.
“What he was trying to say is that if you don’t appreciate this country, you don’t have to be here. That goes for every one of us. It has nothing to do with your race, your gender, your family history. It has to do with respecting and loving the country that has given you the opportunities which you have.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Fox Business News that it’s time to “lower the rhetoric” about racism. He did not mention the crowd’s chants or Trump’s acceptance of them.
Besides Omar, Trump has also been criticizing Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
The Democratic-led House voted Tuesday to condemn Trump’s tweets as racist. On Wednesday, it rejected an effort by one Democrat that was opposed by party leaders to impeach Trump.
AP writers Darlene Superville, Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor contributed.