Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he doesn’t believe Donald Trump is a racist despite the president’s calls for four Democratic lawmakers to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.”
Because Trump’s comments have further widened Washington’s partisan divide, McConnell was asked to comment on them during his weekly press conference.
“The president’s not a racist,” McConnell said. “And I think the tone of all of this is not good for the country. But it’s coming from all ideological points of view. To single out any segment of this I think is a mistake.”
McConnell called on Trump as well as his Democratic critics to soften their rhetoric.
“From the president to the speaker to freshman members of the House, all of us have a responsibility to elevate the public discourse,” McConnell said. “Our words do matter. We all know politics is a contact sport, but it’s about time we lowered the temperature all across the board.”
The war of words between Trump and Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — known as “the Squad” — began after the president weighed in on an ongoing feud over a border funding deal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made with Senate Republicans and moderate House Democrats. Ocasio-Cortez accused Pelosi of “singling out” women of color after the speaker dismissed the influence of the Squad. The infighting gave Trump an opening.
“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,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” his thread continued. “Then come back and show us how it is done.”
Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib were all born in the U.S. Omar became a citizen in 2000 after immigrating from Somalia.
Though Trump declared that Pelosi was “not a racist” during her clash with the four freshman lawmakers, the speaker rebuked the president’s call for them to leave the U.S., stating that his tweet “reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again.”
Trump denied charges that his tweets were racist. “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” he tweeted Tuesday.
“You’re right, Mr. President,” Ocasio-Cortez responded. “You don’t have a racist bone in your body. You have a racist mind in your head, and a racist heart in your chest.”
McConnell said the “political rhetoric has really gotten way, way overheated all across the political spectrum,” then directed his criticisms at Democrats. “We’ve seen the far left throw accusations of racism at everyone, anyone who disagrees with them on anything, including the speaker of the House,” he said.
When asked if he would consider it a racist attack if his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — who is a naturalized citizen — was told to go back to her native country of Taiwan, McConnell dodged the question by noting that his wife came to the country “at age 8, legally, not speaking a word of English and has realized the American dream.”
“The new people who come here have a lot of ambition, a lot of energy, tend to do very well and invigorate our country, and my wife’s a good example of that,” he said. “I’m a big fan of legal immigration.”
When asked if Trump would “tone down his rhetoric” if Republicans, who were slow to respond to the attacks, more forcefully spoke out against them, McConnell said, “I think everybody ought to tone down their rhetoric. We have examples of that across the ideological spectrum in the country.”
But perhaps no one in Washington was a greater example of that than Trump, who, during a Made in America showcase on the South Lawn of the White House Monday, said that the freshman congresswomen “hate our country” and that “they are free to leave if they want.”
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