SOMERSWORTH, N.H. — Kamala Harris on Sunday labeled President Trump’s comment that Democratic congresswomen should return to their countries of origin as a racist trope and said he is failing to unite the country.
“It is absolutely racist and un-American, and it is an old trope,” Harris said to reporters after a town hall meeting here. “You might hear it on the street, but you should never hear it from the president of the United States. This guy doesn’t understand his responsibilities, and I don’t think he understands what the American people want from their president, which is somebody who is going to elevate public discourse and speak with a level of dignity with the goal of unity. … That’s why he needs to go.”
Early Sunday morning, Trump tweeted about members of the House, whom he did not mention by name.
“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. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump tweeted.
“Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough,” Trump wrote, adding that he was “sure” that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Trump appeared to be referencing a handful of House Democrats who have been feuding with Pelosi over the details of a funding bill for assistance at the border to help with housing and care of detained immigrants as well as for security. One of the group of backbenchers, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, was born in Somalia, and another, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, was born in the U.S. to Palestinian immigrants.
The group’s leader, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, has accused Pelosi of criticizing her and her allies because she is a person of color, sparking an internal fight within the Democratic Party.
Harris said that the president should focus on fixing the problems at the border rather than making divisive comments.
“You don’t just say, ‘Go back to where you came from,’ which the president has a tendency to say to everybody he doesn’t like to look at,” she said.
Prior to the town hall, Harris campaigned in the lakes region of the Granite State. The midday event was held at a supporter’s home in the backyard, but ballooned into a rally with several hundred people who parked their cars on the side of a back road for nearly a mile and walked to see her.
And in the late afternoon, Harris came to this town 17 miles from the New Hampshire coast, which has welcomed a growing community of Indonesian immigrants in recent years. A large crowd filled a high school cafeteria and spilled into the back of the room, and another several dozen people watched Harris on a live feed in a gymnasium down the hall. Organizers estimated the crowd at roughly 900 people.
The throngs at both places — the kind of crowds usually seen in New Hampshire closer to the primary — were a sign of Harris’s momentum as a candidate, which has taken off in the past two weeks following her performance at the first Democratic primary debate in Miami.
At both places, Harris’s stump speech touched on the issues of gun violence, closing the pay gap for public school teachers and for women, climate change, family separation at the border and her qualifications to take on Trump. She did not mention the opioid crisis until the question-and-answer session here in Somersworth, and only in an offhand way.
Harris called Trump a “so-called commander in chief” and added to her line that there is a “predator in the White House,” a dig at Trump’s ego. “And another thing about predators: They’re cowards. They’re cowards,” Harris said.
She connected with the crowds, with one woman in Gilford yelling out, “We need you” to Harris, and another pointing to Harris from a hill 20 feet above her and yelling out, “You’re a warrior!”
There were, however, the kind of questions that New Hampshirites like to pose to candidates to test their mettle. Harris had criticized former Vice President Joe Biden in Miami for opposing busing in the 1970s as a U.S. senator, and talked about her own experience as a little girl being bused to school in California. One person in Gilford asked Harris to explain her position.
But since the debate, there have been questions about whether Harris’s position on the issue is all that different from that of Biden, who said in Miami that he had opposed federally mandated busing but was in favor of localities doing it if they wanted. Harris said at the time that the federal government was needed to step in because “there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.”
Harris said her position now is that busing should not be federally mandated. She maintained in Gilford, however, that her disagreement with Biden is over whether the federal government should have mandated busing to desegregate schools in the 1970s.
“That was exactly what was necessary,” Harris said. “[Biden] believes it was not.”
Jim McClaine, 77, came from Portland, Maine, where he lives in retirement with his wife, Kay, and said he likes Harris because “she is a moderate liberal.”
“I think she has a capability of going toe to toe with the president. The No. 1 thing is to get Trump out of the White House,” McClaine said.
He said he personally would like to elect a president as liberal as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., but is “not sure she could have a successful campaign against Trump.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is “too far [to the left] and too old, and I say that as a very old person. Time’s passed,” McClaine said. “The same way with Biden. Time’s passed.”
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