With his latest tweets, Trump dug in further on a line of attack that was widely condemned by Democrats as racist and employed a tactic he has used before: accusing his opponents of the same transgressions for which they have criticised him.
Trump’s tweets appeared to target four outspoken freshmen legislators who have been feuding with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Democratic congresswomen Ayanna Pressley from Massachussetts, Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, and Ilhan Omar from Minnesota.
Only one of them – Omar – was born outside the United States.
All four have called for Trump’s impeachment – Tlaib has done so using profane language – and have been highly critical of his administration, notably denouncing conditions at federal detention facilities near the US-Mexico border.
Trump’s comments regarding Israel appeared to target Omar and Tlaib.
Earlier this year, Omar apologised after she was widely accused of anti-Semitic speech for suggesting that supporters of Israel’s government have an “allegiance to a foreign country”.
Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, has advocated what has been dubbed a “one-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arguing that the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively opposes a two-state solution of neighbouring Israeli and Palestinian states, she has supported the transformation of Israel into a single, jointly governed Arab-Jewish nation. But the idea has little support among either Israelis or Palestinians.
Republicans remained largely silent on Monday morning in the US about Trump’s tweets targeting the minority politicians.
Ocasio-Cortez went on Twitter to denounce Trump shortly after his latest posts.
“It’s important to note that the President’s words yday, telling four American Congresswomen of colour ‘go back to your own country,’ is hallmark language of white supremacists,” she wrote. “Trump feels comfortable leading the GOP into outright racism, and that should concern all Americans.”
Trump’s tweets on Sunday morning were sent before he headed to his golf club in Virginia.
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump tweeted.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump added. “Then come back and show us how it is done.”
Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Tlaib was born in Detroit, and Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York. Omar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia; her family fled the country amid civil war when she was a child, and she became a US citizen as a teenager.
Pelosi described Trump’s tweets as racist and divisive.
“When @realDonaldTrump tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again,” she said in a tweet. “Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.”
By Sunday evening, at least 90 House Democrats, plus Republican-turned-independent Justin Amash had denounced Trump’s remarks, with more than half of them using the words “racist” or “racism” to describe his tweets.
The only Republican member of Congress to speak out against Trump on Sunday was Chip Roy, from Texas, who wrote on Twitter that “POTUS was wrong to say any American citizen, whether in Congress or not, has any ‘home’ besides the US.”
“But I just as strongly believe noncitizens who abuse our immigration laws should be sent home immediately, & Reps who refuse to defend America should be sent home” in the next election, he added.
A few other Republicans were critical of Trump’s tweets when asked about them on Monday.
Congressman Fred Upton, speaking Monday on the syndicated radio program “Michigan’s Big Show,” called Trump’s tweets on Sunday “really uncalled for” and “very disappointing”.
“We don’t respond to everything that’s out there,” he said when asked about the relative silence from GOP politicians. “But I would imagine, I would know, that a good number of my Republican colleagues don’t appreciate the comments as well. And actually if you look at the facts … three of the four were born in this country, so it makes no sense.”
During a television appearance on Monday morning, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham counselled Trump to focus on policy differences with the congresswomen rather than on them personally.
“Aim higher. They are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies,” Graham said on Fox News’s Fox & Friends.
During the interview, Graham called the congresswomen’s ideas “anti-Semitic” and “socialist” and said their agenda is “disgusting”.
“We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists,” Graham said, referring to Ocasio-Cortez. “They hate Israel. They hate our own country.”
Trump later tweeted selective quotes from Graham’s interview that did not include his advice to “aim higher”.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday morning, Marc Short, Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said: “I don’t think the President’s intent in any way is racist … This is not a universal statement that he is making.”
Short also mentioned a recent naturalisation ceremony at which Pence presided and that was attended by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is Asian American.
“So when people write the President has racist motives here, look at the reality of who is actually serving in Donald Trump’s Cabinet,” Short said. “He is making a point about a great frustration a lot of people feel that, I think it’s hard to find anything Ilhan Omar has actually said since elected to Congress that has been positive about the United States of America.”
The Washington Post