Donald Trump again used racist tropes in a renewed attack on four Democratic congresswomen at a campaign rally on Wednesday night, leading his supporters to chant “Send her back! Send her back!” in reference to the US citizen Ilhan Omar.
The president used the North Carolina rally to resume his row with the self-styled “squad” of congresswomen that also includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and which began when he tweeted that the four should “go back” to their home countries.
All four are people of colour and US citizens. Three were born in the US, while Ms Omar came to the country as a refugee from Somalia when she was 12.
Referring to the women, Mr Trump said: ”Tonight I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down.
“They never have anything good to say. That’s why I say, ‘Hey if you don’t like it, let ‘em leave, let ‘em leave’.”
Taking the politicians on one at a time, Mr Trump ticked through a list of what he deemed offensive comments by each woman, misconstruing many facts along the way. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan complete the four.
Ms Omar came under the harshest criticism as Mr Trump played to voters’ grievances, drawing the sustained “send her back” chant.
Before he left Washington, Mr Trump said he has no regrets about his ongoing row with the four. The president told reporters he’s “winning the political argument” and “winning it by a lot”.
“If people want to leave our country, they can. If they don’t want to love our country, if they don’t want to fight for our country, they can (leave),” Mr Trump said. “I’ll never change on that.”
His speech was filled with criticisms of the news media, which he says sides with liberals, and of special prosecutor Robert Mueller‘s Russia probe. Mr Mueller had been scheduled to testify to Congress on Wednesday, but it was postponed.
He also talked about illegal immigration, a main theme of his first presidential bid that is taking centre stage in his re-election campaign.
The president brushed off the criticism he has got for saying that the congresswomen should go back home. “So controversial,” he said sarcastically.
The four politicians say they are fighting for their priorities to lower health care costs and pass a Bill addressing climate change, while his attacks are a distraction and tear at the core of American values.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to condemn Mr Trump for what it labelled “racist comments”, despite opposition from all bar four Republicans and the president’s insistence that he does not have a “racist bone” in his body.
The condemnation carries no legal repercussions and Mr Trump’s latest harangues struck a chord with supporters in Greenville, who chanted “Four more years!” and “Build that wall!”
It was Mr Trump’s sixth visit to the state as president and his first 2020 campaign event in North Carolina, where he defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Additional reporting by agencies