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How Trump’s controversial tweets are exposing a party divide on race

Lawmakers continue to react to racist tweets President Trump posted Sunday about four women of color in the House. So far, most Republicans have defended the president or tried to reframe the conversation as about ideology rather than race, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved to officially condemn Trump’s remarks. Lisa Desjardins reports and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss an ongoing divide.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The firestorm over President Trump's racist rhetoric spread to Capitol Hill today, where a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives is uniting Democrats and testing Republicans' willingness to criticize the commander in chief.

    Lisa Desjardins begins with how the day's events unfolded.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Two days after the president's initial tweets, today, Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell responded.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    The president is not a racist.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yet the Republican leader didn't exonerate the president. He choose to blame him and Democrats both.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    I think there's been a consensus that political rhetoric has really gotten way, way overheated. From the president, to the speaker, to freshman members of the House, all of us have a responsibility to elevate the public discourse. Our words do matter. We all know politics is a contact sport.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    From fellow Republican and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a different tack, changing the subject to broader themes.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.:

    I believe this is about ideology. This is about socialism vs. freedom. I think this party has been very clear, we are the party of Lincoln. This party believes in the content of the individual.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Indeed, there was ideological divide, as Democrats like Pramila Jayapal were happy to point out as well.

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.:

    Dissent is patriotic. The thing that has always made America great is that people are willing to make it better.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All of this after President Trump's tweets on Sunday claiming that four Democratic congresswomen of color are from other countries, that they are too critical of the U.S. and should consider going back to where they came from. All of them are American citizens. Three were born in the United States.

    The president echoed some of his words again today at the White House.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They should love our country. They shouldn't hate our country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Meanwhile, his senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, touched off a different debate, as she tried to turn the table on a reporter asking about the president's words.

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    What is your ethnicity?

  • Andrew Feinberg:

    Why is that relevant?

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Because I'm asking a question.

    My ancestors are from Ireland and Italy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The reporter refused to answer.

    A few miles away, on Capitol Hill, one of the lawmakers in the center of the storm, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, said today the GOP needs to condemn the president's words themselves.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.:

    They have targeted four congresswomen of color who are American citizens with a classic line of white supremacy, and they are trying to pivot, and they are trying to excuse it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Later, in an unusual moment…

  • Man:

    All members will suspend.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The House of Representatives came to a full stop in the middle of a debate on the president's words, and whether the House should condemn them.

    The question surrounded these remarks, very rare about a president's actions, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    These comments from the White House are disgraceful and disgusting, and the comments are racist.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    House Republicans immediately pointed to rules against maligning the president, and invoked a rare form of objection to those words.

  • Man:

    I make a point of order the gentlewoman's words are unparliamentary and request the words be taken down.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The action is not finished for the day. House Democrats expect to pass a resolution condemning the president's tweets as racist. Tonight, that may be a test for some Republicans. Mr. Trump has urged them to vote no.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now.

    So, Lisa, you have been talking today to a number of Republicans. How are they reacting?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, there's a difference between private and public life for the Republicans today.

    Publicly, some of them will vote with Democrats tonight, but probably not many. Most of them will stick with the president on this resolution to condemn him.

    But, privately, Judy, there is a divide among Republicans. Some are very concerned that these remarks may in fact push away the very voters they think they need, suburban white Americans, who are uncomfortable with this kind of language.

    But there are other Republicans who say, no, we think the president is defending something, especially in rural areas, that we think is right. We think that there is too much talk of racism, and we're glad he's pushing back.

    There's a real divide opening up for Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you were telling me — and we saw just a little bit of this on the floor of the House — as they are debating this resolution, it's gotten really complicated.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I can't stress what a wild, strange day this has been. But that's right.

    The House voted — or Nancy Pelosi made these remarks. Republicans objected. And the parliamentarian agreed with Republicans that she was out of line.

    In order for her and those remarks to stay on the books, the whole House had to vote. Her Democrats had to support her. That happened.

    Since then, Judy, we have seen an eruption of tempers and emotion on the House floor, even as we speak, Democrats reading out everything they think the president has ever said that is offensive, Republicans objecting.

    It has become a very emotional and raucous place, the House floor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, you were also telling me — we were talking just a few minutes ago — that kind of underlying all this, you're seeing really a complicated reaction to what's happening.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is what I want to get to, because, at the Capitol, it's frustrating. We're seeing this bouncing ball.

    We're seeing this atmosphere of accusations right now. But it's so important to get to the greater meaning, because, as neither side seems politically motivated to try and resolve this conversation about race, I'm also concerned, Judy, that maybe they're not equipped.

    And that's because these two sides, as you talk to them behind closed doors, they define racism differently. Republicans are using kind of a an earlier definition of race, in which the intention of the person is what's critical.

    Democrats are talking more and more about what the effect of racism is. Are people affected by it? Are their lives changed?

    And, of course, Democrats have more people of color. It's not an accident that the definition is evolving, because people of color have more power.

    One really quick example, I talked to John Thune, a Republican. I asked him, is there anything you would feel comfortable calling racism? He had to pause, and he couldn't say that there was.

    Democrats are not comfortable in how to bring white — white Americans into the conversation about race. Republicans are not comfortable talking about racism at all. And they are far apart on a very important conversation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're bringing something that has cultural dimensions and so much else.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's so much more than — and larger than politics.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, we thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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