President Donald Trump, jumping into the middle of a feud among House Democrats, called out progressive congresswomen in xenophobic terms on Sunday, saying, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
While he didn’t mention them by name in his series of tweets, Trump was presumably targeting some of the caucus’s best-known freshman women of color: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).
“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,” the president wrote.
Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley were all born in the United States. Omar, a Somalian refugee, immigrated to the U.S. with her family in the early 1990s.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he added. “Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Hours later, after dozens of assorted tweets and re-tweets, the president circled back to attack again.
“So sad to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion,” he wrote. “Whenever confronted, they call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, ‘RACIST.’ Their disgusting language ..... and the many terrible things they say about the United States must not be allowed to go unchallenged.”
If the posts were intended to exploit simmering tensions within the Democratic Party after weeks of messy public infighting, however, they instead gave embattled House Democrats a common opponent to rally against — the president himself.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been at odds with some of the most liberal members of her caucus, and other top Democrats fired back.
Pelosi said the president’s “xenophobic comments” were reaffirming his plan to make “America white again.” Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), the No. 4 House Democrat, said the comments were “a racist tweet from a racist president.”
Other House Democrats also quickly weighed in, defending their colleagues, and Ocasio-Cortez turned the focus back on Trump’s immigration policies.
“Mr. President, the country I ‘come from,’ & the country we all swear to, is the United States,” she tweeted. “But given how you’ve destroyed our border with inhumane camps, all at a benefit to you & the corps who profit off them, you are absolutely right about the corruption laid at your feet.”
Mr. President, the country I “come from,” & the country we all swear to, is the United States.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 14, 2019
But given how you’ve destroyed our border with inhumane camps, all at a benefit to you & the corps who profit off them, you are absolutely right about the corruption laid at your feet. https://t.co/HLKQCotR8T
Tlaib responded to the president along similar lines: “Yo @realDonaldTrump, I am fighting corruption in OUR country. I do it every day when I hold your admin accountable as a U.S. Congresswoman. Detroit taught me how to fight for the communities you continue to degrade & attack. Keep talking, you’ll be out of the WH soon. #TickTock.”
Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes took Trump to task for racism. “Unlike the Democratic Congresswomen @realDonaldTrump attacked today, I actually am a foreign-born Member of Congress,” said Himes, who was born in Peru where his father worked for the Ford Foundation. “But I’m a white male of European descent, so there’s no chance he’ll attack me. His tantrum has nothing to do with birthplace.“
Democratic presidential candidates weighed in almost uniformly and just about universally in condemnation of the tweets. Republican congressional leadership did not address the subject.
The early-morning tweets also ignited frustrations inside the president’s reelection operation, where officials spent the last week relishing the dust-up between Pelosi and the four freshman progressives.
One person close to the campaign said Trump ruined weeks of messaging for his 2020 operation by uniting Democrats through their condemnation of his disparaging tweets. The infighting between party leaders and the four women — known as “the squad” — had “proved what we’ve been saying all along — that radical progressives are infiltrating the Democratic Party and pressuring their colleagues to embrace policies that are so far outside the mainstream no voter will entertain them,” this person said.
This person added: “We’ve been told to follow President Trump’s lead, but I don’t think you’re going to see that happen in this instance.”
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump’s remarks are the denouement after an acrimonious week for House Democrats in which members publicly turned on one another over generational, ideological and racial divides. Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez traded barbs during the week, forcing other members of the caucus to take sides in what became a dayslong spat.
Trump, who last week defended Pelosi after Ocasio-Cortez said the speaker was singling out women of color for criticism, seemed determined to exacerbate those intraparty strains on Sunday morning. But the speaker stood with the members of her caucus.
“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. Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power,” she wrote on Twitter.
The president did succeed in one way that Democrats themselves haven’t been able to figure out — how to tamp down the simmering party feud and come back together for what is expected to be a chaotic two weeks in the House before a lengthy August recess.
Returning to the Capitol after the July 4th holiday, tensions were still simmering over an emergency border bill that nearly ripped the caucus apart. That divide was further exacerbated when Pelosi openly questioned the influence of “the squad,” prompting a series of fiery comments from the quartet, including Ocasio-Cortez.
Pelosi then privately chided progressives, including taking a shot at Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, for tweeting criticism of their colleagues. Ocasio-Cortez then inflamed tensions by suggesting that Pelosi was purposefully singling out her and other women of color within the caucus to criticize.
Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks prompted a sharp rebuke from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who said it was actually her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, who was targeting people of color within the caucus.
Weeks earlier, during the fight over humanitarian funding to address the border crisis, Chakrabarti compared moderate Democrats to segregationists in a now-deleted tweet. He has also publicly endorsed primary challengers to sitting Democratic incumbents, including members of the CBC.
On Friday, things seemed to have at least publicly calmed down as members left the Capitol for the weekend. But the spat was seemingly reignited on Friday night after a House Democratic Caucus Twitter account run by staffers for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) targeted Chakrabarti in a late-night tweet.
Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?— House Democrats (@HouseDemocrats) July 13, 2019
Her name is Congresswoman Davids, not Sharice.
She is a phenomenal new member who flipped a red seat blue.
The four members of the self-described squad — Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Tlaib and Omar — have been some of the most vocal critics of both Trump and their own party on the issue of immigration.
Tlaib recently gave emotional testimony and characterized the Trump administration’s immigration agenda as governed by “a dangerous ideology.” She recounted stories of the migrants she met in custody and the conditions of the facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border. She was also joined by Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who all toured border patrol facilities earlier this month.
Speaking on Saturday at Netroots Nation in Philadelphia, Omar responded to critics such as Trump and Fox News host Tucker Carlson who have assailed her as anti-American.
“I believe, as an immigrant, I probably love this country more than anyone that is naturally born,” the first-term congresswoman said.
Escobar took the president to task for the potential effect of his message.
“The racism and hatred cultivated and fueled by @realDonaldTrump only serves to further divide our country and puts the targets of his vile attacks in danger,” she wrote on Twitter. “And this kind of attack is why xenophobic followers of his think the dehumanization of vulnerable immigrants is ok.”
His tweets on Sunday were far from the first time Trump, a native of New York, treated political opponents as outsiders of uncertain loyalty. He cast doubts on the legality of Barack Obama’s presidency, supporting conspiracy theorists who claimed without justification that Obama was not born in the United States. During the 2016 campaign, he repeatedly denounced Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel (born in Indiana but of Mexican origin) and suggested Curiel could not rule fairly in a case involving Trump.
Pelosi said on Sunday that Trump should stop attacking members of Congress and work with them to instead fix immigration, beginning with putting an end to his administration’s deportation raids launched over the weekend.
“Rather than attack Members of Congress, he should work with us for humane immigration policy that reflects American values,” the speaker tweeted. “Stop the raids.”
Heather Caygle and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.