Senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway asked a reporter what his ethnicity was during a reproachful exchange outside the White House on Tuesday as Conway defended President Donald Trump‘s racist tweets last weekend about four lawmakers of color.
Trump’s Sunday tweets, in which he told Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib to “go back” to the countries they “originally came from,” have been widely denounced in America and abroad.
He has continued to defend the inflammatory remarks, instead pointing to what he says is “vile” rhetoric on the part of the four liberal congresswomen, whom he said “hate” America.
All four women are U.S. citizens. Omar immigrated from Somalia. Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York, Pressley in Illinois and Tlaib in Michigan.
“This is simply a disruption and a distraction from the callous, chaotic and corrupt culture of this administration,” Pressley said at a news conference on Monday, alongside the other three representatives.
Said Ocasio-Cortez: “We don’t leave the things that we love, and when we love this country, what that means is that we propose the solutions to fix it.”
The next morning, as the denunciations continued and House Democrats said they would vote on a resolution condemning Trump, he tweeted: “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!”
He also told reporters the backlash “doesn’t concern me, because many people agree with me. All I’m saying is if they want to leave, they can leave now.”
Later that day Conway, a counselor to the president, spoke with reporters about his remarks and the ensuing controversy.
Reporter Andrew Feinberg later said that he had asked Conway what Trump could have meant by his original tweets after, according to him, Conway said Trump didn’t tell the four congresswomen to return to the countries of their ancestors.
Video of the exchange captured what happened next.
“If the president was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, to which countries was he referring?” Feinberg asked.
Conway immediately responded, “What’s your ethnicity?”
As Feinberg attempted to ask why ethnicity was relevant, she interjected, “I’m asking you a question. My ancestors are from Ireland and Italy.”
Feinberg said, “My own ethnicity is not relevant to the question I’m asking.”
“No no, it is because you’re asking about — he said ‘originally,’ he said ‘originally from,’ ” Conway shot back. “And you know everything he has said since and to have a full conversation. … He’s said a lot about this since that one tweet.”
Conway then pivoted her remarks to the ongoing dispute over migrant detention at the southern border. Advocates and lawmakers have described in wrenching terms how adults and children are held, sometimes for weeks, in dirty and sickly conditions as their immigration cases are pending.
The Trump administration has argued in response that the migrant levels at the border are a “crisis” that has overwhelmed the system and Congress must act — both with more funding and by making immigration laws more restrictive, a key Trump campaign promise.
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“He’s tired,” Conway said Tuesday of the president. “A lot of us are sick and tired of this country, of America, coming last to people who swore an oath of office. [We’re] sick and tired of our military being denigrated. Sick and tired of the Customs and Border Protection people I was with, who are overwhelmingly hispanic by the way, in McAllen, Texas, being … criticized.”
Conway described the CBP officials as “brave men and women” doing their best. In a follow-up tweet, Conway criticized Rep. Omar, who has previously drawn ire for her own rhetoric about Israel and the 9/11 terror attacks.
Separately, speaking from the House floor on Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke bluntly of Trump’s attacks on the four representatives.
“The comments from the White House are disgraceful and disgusting and the comments are racist,” Pelosi said. “How shameful to hear him [Trump] to continue to defend the offense words.”