Written by Eileen Sullivan and Julie Hirschfeld Davis
President Donald Trump, under fire for comments that even some Republicans called racist, amplified his attacks on Democrats in Congress on Monday, calling one of the first two Muslim women in the House an al-Qaida sympathizer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a racist.
“They’re free to leave if they want. If they want to leave, that’s fine. If they want to stay, that’s fine,” Trump said Monday, referring to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts.
On Sunday, he said they should “go back” to the countries they came from, though all but Omar were born in the United States. On Monday, showing no sign of regret, he said they hated America, a “hallmark language of white supremacists,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“Trump feels comfortable leading the GOP into outright racism, and that should concern all Americans,” the freshman Democrat from the Bronx wrote on Twitter.
The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four “progressives,” but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2019
We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2019
Trump’s new front against Pelosi came after she announced that the House would move to officially reject the president’s tweets about members of Congress. “Our Republican colleagues must join us in condemning the president’s xenophobic tweets,” she said in a letter to lawmakers.
She reacted just hours after Trump tried to turn the situation around and accused the congresswomen of “foul language & racist hatred” and demanded an apology from them.
Pelosi criticized the president Sunday for his remarks and said that his slogan, “‘Make America Great Again,’ has always been about making America white again.”
Trump, in turn, accused her of racist remarks. “So Speaker Pelosi said, ‘Make America white again.’ That’s a very racist — that’s a very racist statement. I’m surprised she’d say that,” Trump said at an event celebrating American manufacturing at the White House.
Early Monday, few Republican lawmakers had responded to Trump’s comments, widely seen as racist. By midday, however, that had changed. Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, said Trump’s comments Sunday were “racist” and the president should apologize. And Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, the House’s only black Republican, condemned the president’s remarks, calling them “racist, and xenophobic.”
Hurd also said the president’s narrative was politically damaging because it is uniting Democrats at a time when the party is experiencing a “civil war.”
Pelosi’s pledge to formally reject Trump’s comments appeared to make his point.
“Let me be clear, our caucus will continue to forcefully respond to these disgusting attacks,” Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues. “The House cannot allow the president’s characterization of immigrants to our country to stand.”
Pelosi said the resolution, which has yet to be drafted, would make reference to a speech by President Ronald Reagan in which he said that “if we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”
For months there has been a rift between Pelosi and the four lawmakers, and last week tensions grew when Pelosi pointedly said they had no following in Congress. The four lawmakers, who call themselves “the squad,” opposed a $4.6 billion aid package for the border, approved by Congress, because they said it supported Trump’s immigration policies.
The tone of the president’s remarks, however, is something they agree on.
Trump’s comments Monday also addressed strains from earlier this year when Omar sent jolts through her own party for criticizing Israel and suggesting that supporters of Israel were pushing for “allegiance to a foreign country.”
“I can tell you that they have made Israel feel abandoned by the U.S.,” Trump wrote in one of his tweets.
Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, said Trump’s use of Israel in his comments hurts the Jewish community.
“He doesn’t speak for any of us,” Greenblatt wrote in a Twitter post Monday. “We call on ALL leaders across the political spectrum to condemn these racist, xenophobic tweets & using Jews as a shield.”
Two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, suggested that the president steer clear of personal attacks and instead focus on policy.
“We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists,” Graham said on Fox News. “They hate Israel, they hate our own country.” But he also pushed back against the president’s suggestion that the women are not American.
“They are American citizens,” Graham said. “They won an election. Take on their policies. The bottom line here is this is a diverse country.”
He added: “Mr. President, you’re right about their policies. You’re right about where they will take the country. Just aim higher.”
Trump said he disagreed with Graham about aiming higher. “These are congressmen. What am I supposed to do, just wait for senators? No,” Trump said.