GOP largely silent on Trump telling Democrats to 'go back' to their 'broken and crime infested' countries

It’s been more than 24 hours since President Trump attacked four Democratic congresswomen of color, tweeting that they should “go back” to their “broken and crime infested” countries, even though all but one were born in the United States. And few Republican members of Congress have publicly criticized Trump for tweets widely regarded as racist.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to address Trump's attack, telling reporters he'd "address whatever questions" they have for him at his regularly scheduled press conference on Tuesday.

Of the 289 Republicans in the House and Senate, just 12 had criticized the president over his tweets as of 3 p.m. ET Monday.

Appearing on “Fox & Friends” on Monday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump should “aim higher” following his missives aimed at Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

The women were all born in the United States, except for the Somalia-born Omar, who entered the country as a refugee in 1992.

“They are American citizens,” Graham said. “They won an election. Take on their policies. The bottom line here is that this is a diverse country.”

“Focus on what they want to do for America and to America, and compare it with what you’ve done,” the South Carolina Republican advised. "Don’t get personal. Don’t take the bait.”

But Graham himself also attacked the congresswomen, calling them anti-Semitic and “anti-America.”

“We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists,” he said. “They hate Israel. They hate our own country. They’re calling the guards along our border, the Border Patrol agents, concentration camp guards. They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the ‘Benjamins.’ They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America. Don’t get down, aim higher. We don’t need to know anything about them personally. Talk about their policies.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks during the fourth annual Citywide Iftar Dinner in Austin, Texas, in May. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Rep. Ilhan Omar (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Omar came under fire earlier this year for a pair of tweets that suggested political support for Israel is driven by money from American Jews.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote in one, a slang reference for large sums of money. Omar subsequently apologized for invoking anti-Semitic tropes.

“I think they are American citizens who were duly elected who are running on an agenda that is disgusting that the American people will reject,” Graham continued. “Talk about what it means for America to have free health care for illegal immigrants and no criminalization of coming into the country. See how that works for controlling immigration. Their ideas, they’re anti-Semitic.”

He added: “They wanted to impeach Trump on day one. They’re socialists, they’re anti-Semitic, they stand for all the things most Americans disagree with. Make them the face of the future of the Democratic Party, they will destroy the Democratic Party.”

Trump quoted Graham’s “Fox & Friends” remarks in several Monday tweets, but left out his advice to “aim higher.”

Graham, though, was one of few congressional Republicans to publicly address Trump’s remarks.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Trump’s tweet suggesting the women go back to their home countries “was way over the line, and he should take that down.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., expressed a similar statement on Monday afternoon.

"President Trump was wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from," Toomey said. "Three of the four were born in America and the citizenship of all four is as valid as mine."

He added: "I couldn't disagree more with these congresswomen's views on immigration, socialism, national security, and virtually every policy issue. But they are entitled to their opinions, however misguided they may be. We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry."

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., on Monday labeled Trump's attack "unacceptable" and "racially offensive."

"No matter our political disagreements, aiming for the lowest common denominator will only divide our nation further,” Scott said in a statement.

[Related: Trump says Democratic congresswomen ‘hate our country’]

"There is no excuse for the president’s spiteful comments," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, tweeted on Monday afternoon. "They were absolutely unacceptable and this needs to stop."

On Sunday night, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, tweeted that the president was “wrong to say any American citizen, whether in Congress or not, has any ‘home’ besides the U.S.”

But Roy pivoted within the same tweet to criticize his colleagues for their opposition to Trump’s immigration policies.

“Just as strongly believe non-citizens who abuse our immigration laws should be sent home immediately,” he wrote, “Reps who refuse to defend America should be sent home 11/2020.”

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, was unequivocal in his criticism.

"Those tweets are racist and xenophobic," Hurd told CNN. "It’s also behavior that’s unbecoming of the leader of the free world. He should be talking about things that unite, not divide us."

In an interview with WBAL radio, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said Trump’s message was “clearly not a racist statement,” and suggested he may have meant something altogether different by it.

“He could have meant go back to the district they came from, to the neighborhood they came from,” Harris said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee meeting in February. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who last week warned the same congresswomen not to criticize her in public — came to their defense.

“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,” Pelosi tweeted. “Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.”

On Monday, Pelosi said the Democratic-led chamber would consider a resolution condemning Trump's tweets.

"The House cannot allow the president’s characterization of immigrants to our country to stand," Pelosi said, urging Republicans to "join us in condemning the president’s xenophobic tweets."

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who lost to Trump in the 2016 Republican primary, also urged members of the GOP to call out Trump’s “deplorable” rhetoric.

“What @realDonaldTrump said about Democrat women in Congress is deplorable and beneath the dignity of the office,” Kasich tweeted. “We all, including Republicans, need to speak out against these kinds of comments that do nothing more than divide us and create deep animosity — maybe even hatred.”

Ocasio-Cortez said the silence among Republicans is deafening.

“It’s important to note that the President’s words [yesterday], telling four American Congresswomen of color ‘go back to your own country,’ is hallmark language of white supremacists,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Trump feels comfortable leading the GOP into outright racism, and that should concern all Americans.”

She added: “Until Republican officials denounce yesterday’s explicitly racist statements (which should be easy!), we sadly have no choice but to assume they condone it.”

Few, though, did.

"As Americans, there is more that unites us than divides us," Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., said in a statement. "The President's remarks to my colleagues across the aisle are inappropriate and do not reflect American values."

".@realDonaldTrump, We must be better than comments like these," Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., tweeted. "I share the political frustrations with some members of the other party, but these comments are beneath leaders."

“The President’s tweets were inappropriate, denigrating, and wrong,” tweeted Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. “It is unacceptable to to tell legal U.S. citizens to go back to their home country.”

Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., Monday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
President Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Republican Reps. Pete Olson of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan expressed their displeasure with Trump earlier Monday afternoon.

"Frankly I’m appalled by the President's tweets. There’s no excuse," Upton wrote on Twitter. "Inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the aisle that is used to divide us just isn’t right. It’s not helpful. We have too many challenges facing us that we ought to be working on together — immigration, the debt ceiling, the border crisis. The President’s tweets were flat out wrong and uncalled for, and I would encourage my colleagues from both parties to stop talking so much and start governing more."

"The Tweet President Trump posted over the weekend about fellow Members of Congress are not reflective of the values of the 1,000,000+ people in Texas 22," Olson tweeted. "We are proud to be the most diverse Congressional district in America. I urge our President immediately disavow his comments."

"I am confident that every Member of Congress is a committed American," Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, tweeted. "@realDonaldTrump’s tweets from this weekend were racist and he should apologize. We must work as a country to rise above hate, not enable it."

An apology doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.

Speaking to reporters before a "Made in America" product showcase at the White House on Monday afternoon, Trump was asked if he thought his tweets were racist.

"Not at all," the president replied. "If somebody has a problem with our country, if somebody doesn't want to be in our country, they should leave."

Later, when asked if he was concerned his comments were being used as validation by white nationalists, the president said he was not.

"It doesn't concern me because many people agree with me," Trump said.


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