President Trump sought on Monday to deflect criticism that tweets he wrote over the weekend about four Democratic congresswomen of color were racist by asserting that the women “hate our country.”
“These are people that hate our country,” said Trump during a Made in America event on manufacturing at the White House. “They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.”
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the Democratic congresswomen should “go back” to their home countries. Three of the four women the president targeted were born in the United States (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan) while the other, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, is a Somali refugee who became a citizen in 2000.
When asked if he was concerned that many people saw that tweet as racist and that white nationalist groups were finding common cause with the statement, Trump said Monday he wasn’t because “many people agree with me.”
“[They’re] complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave right now,” added Trump. “Come back if you want, don’t come back, it’s OK too. But if you’re not happy, you can leave.”
Of course, Trump’s own 2016 presidential campaign parlayed the politics of grievance into victory. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” was itself an inherent critique of what he saw as wrong with the nation, and his 2015 campaign book, “Crippled America” did not shy away from complaining about the United States.
But Trump’s success as a politician has been predicated on the idea that the best defense is a strong offense, and on Monday he called on the Democratic congresswomen to apologize to him.
While he asserted at the White House event that he didn’t call out the congresswomen by name, moments later Trump did just that, singling out Omar.
“A politician who hears somebody when we’re at war with al-Qaeda and sees somebody talking about how great al-Qaeda is, pick out her statement, was Omar,” Trump said, though it is unclear what statement he was referring to. “How great al-Qaeda is, when you hear that, and we’re losing great soldiers to al-Qaeda.”
Trump then referenced Ocasio-Cortez’s criticisms of a deal online retailer Amazon made with New York.
“One of them kept Amazon out of New York. Tens of thousands of jobs. Would have been a great thing. And she kept Amazon from going,” Trump said of Ocasio-Cortez.
Both congresswomen have pushed back against the president.
Omar, the first Somali-American in Congress and first hijab-wearing Muslim member of the House, responded to Trump on Sunday, tweeting: “You are stoking white nationalism [because] you are angry that people like us are serving in Congress and fighting against your hate-filled agenda.” During his comments Monday, Trump attacked Omar’s criticisms of Israel.
Ocasio-Cortez also took aim at Trump over the weekend.
“But you know what’s the rub of it all, Mr. President?” said Ocasio-Cortez Sunday in response to Trump’s tweets. “On top of not accepting an America that elected us, you cannot accept that we don’t fear you, either. You can’t accept that we will call your bluff & offer a positive vision for this country. And that’s what makes you seethe.”
Republicans have been mostly silent about Trump’s attacks, which came after a week of feuding between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the four freshmen congresswomen who had been critical of the border funding deal Pelosi made with Republicans in the Senate and moderate House Democrats.
Last week, after Ocasio-Cortez had accused Pelosi of persistently “singling out” women of color, Trump defended the speaker. “I'll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi that you know better than I do: She is not a racist,” he said. On Monday, he was defensive after she attacked his tweets: “Speaker Pelosi said ‘make America white again,’ let me tell you that’s a very racist, that’s a very racist statement. I’m surprised she’d say that.”
Pelosi rejected what she called Trump’s “xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation” and on Monday told House Democrats in a letter that she would hold a vote on a resolution condemning the tweets.
"This morning, the President doubled down on his attacks on our four colleagues suggesting they apologize to him," wrote Pelosi. "Let me be clear, our Caucus will continue to forcefully respond to these disgusting attacks.”
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