BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) â€” A top White House adviser on Sunday claimed there was a "huge difference" between Donald Trump's criticisms of America during the 2016 presidential campaign and the critiques by four Democratic congresswomen of color with whom Trump is feuding over the direction of the country.
Trump's words, according to Stephen Miller, were part of a political campaign to put America first and were not intended to sow discord, while the first-term lawmakers are bent on expressing "anti-American sentiment."
Miller, during a television interview, was shown several video clips of then-candidate Trump lambasting the United States, calling Barack Obama "the most ignorant president in our history" and saying "nobody respects us." Criticizing Obama's leadership, the future Republican president said, "We don't know what we're doing."
Trying to explain why the lawmakers' complaints should be seen as worse than Trump's, Miller said there is no comparison between agitating for stricter enforcement of immigration laws and better trade deals, as he said Trump was doing, and threatening to undermine the American way of life, as he asserted the lawmakers want to do. "They detest America as it exists," he said.
To a senior House Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the congresswomen "love their country and they work very hard and they want to move us toward that more perfect union that our Founding Fathers talked about."
Miller, citing a Trump rallying cry in 2016, said, "There's a huge difference between America First and an ideology that runs down America."
Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan have pushed back against Trump and the White House, saying they're fighting to help make America live up to its promise.
The four, who call themselves "the squad," have also criticized Trump in personal terms, as he has done with Obama.
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted at the president on Sunday, saying she and her colleagues fight for such things and living wages and basic human rights while Trump "hurt immigrant kids" and put charter school advocate Betsy DeVos in charge of federal education policy.
Her tweeted was retweeted by Omar. Tlaib tweeted: "He tweets. We take action," accompanied by a list of measures passed by or pending in the Democratic-controlled House. Pressley retweeted a clip of Cummings' comments in support of the four.
Trump and some fellow Republicans are trying to turn the four lawmakers into the face of the Democratic Party as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up. Trump is also relying on divisive rhetoric on the issues of race and immigration that he used to stoke his political base in 2016.
Trump carried the feud with the lawmakers into a second week on Sunday, tweeting from his central New Jersey home: "I don't believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country."
Trump had ignited a firestorm of debate a week ago with earlier tweets in which he falsely said the black, Hispanic and Muslim congresswomen - all U.S. citizens - "came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world."
"Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done," he said. Three of the four House members were born in the U.S. Omar is a naturalized citizen who fled Somalia with her family when she was a child.
Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, defended the lawmakers. Three are committee members.
"When you disagree with the president, suddenly ... you're a bad person. Our allegiance is not to the president. Our allegiance is to the Constitution of the United States of America and to the American people," Cummings said.
"These are some of the most brilliant young people that I have met and I am honored to serve with them," Cummings said.
Miller appeared on "Fox News Sunday" and Cummings was on ABC's "This Week."
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