Republicans criticize minority lawmakers as 'far-left,' chastise Trump for 'over the line' tweets
WASHINGTON - A day after President Donald Trump said four minority congresswomen should "go back" to their home countries, Republicans criticized the quartet and cast them as the face of a socialist, left-wing Democratic Party while chastising the president in language that stopped short of fierce condemnation.
Republicans were largely silent Sunday in the face of Trump's tweets, decried as racist, urging Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came."
But by early Monday evening, several GOP lawmakers responded by taking a swipe at the Democratic women, and then criticized the president.
"While I strongly disagree with the tactics, policies, and rhetoric of the far-left socialist 'Squad,' the President's tweets were inappropriate, denigrating, and wrong," Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said in a tweet. "It is unacceptable to tell legal U.S. citizens to go back to their home country."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is close to Trump and was praised by the president in tweets last week, repeatedly insisted to reporters at the Capitol on Monday that "the president is not a racist" and that the president had spoken out of "frustration."
Asked Whether Omar should return to Somalia, McCarthy said, "No, they're Americans. Nobody believes somebody should leave the country. They have a right to give their opinion."
But he later sought to turn the tables by noting that Ocasio-Cortez made comments last week accusing Pelosi of "singling out ... newly elected women of color."
"The speaker of the House, she claimed, was a racist and was attacking these women of color. That was a comment last week. Now this week we're accusing somebody else of it," he said, before referencing comments Omar and others have made that prompted claims of anti-Semitism.
All four of the Democratic lawmakers are U.S. citizens. Three were born in the United States; Omar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and became a U.S. citizen as a teenager.
All House Republicans will probably be forced to go on record on Trump's tweets in the coming days; Democrats in the chamber introduced a resolution condemning the president's words. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the resolution could be brought to the House floor as early as Tuesday. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday that Senate Democrats are preparing a companion resolution.
Congressional Republicans were left largely to chart their own course Monday in the absence of any unified messaging effort by their party, aides said. One Senate Republican chief of staff, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the party's response, said there was only "commiserating" at such moments, "no coordination."
"Every man for themselves," said a House Republican close to party leadership, who spoke on similar terms.
But common themes quickly emerged. In responding to Trump's tweets Monday, several Republicans echoed the president's claim that the four women "hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion," while others cast them as lax on border security.
"I disagree strongly with many of the views and comments of some of the far-left members of the House Democratic Caucus - especially when it comes to their views on socialism, their anti-Semitic rhetoric, and their negative comments about law enforcement - but the President's tweet that some Members of Congress should go back to the 'places from which they came' was way over the line, and he should take that down," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement.
In an interview on Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump's most vocal allies on Capitol Hill, called the Democratic lawmakers both socialist and communist while saying that their ideas were "anti-Semitic" and that they "hate Israel." But he also counseled Trump: "Aim higher. They are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies."
Omar apologized this year after making comments that were interpreted by many as anti-Semitic. Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, has advocated what has been dubbed a "one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump has repeatedly seized on their comments to argue that the lawmakers are insufficiently supportive of Israel, an assertion the Democrats have denied.
Other Republicans criticized Trump's remarks Monday with no mention of the policies of the four women.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Trump "failed very badly yesterday and today"; he called the president's comments "destructive and demeaning and in some ways dangerous.
Several former officeholders, including former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, rebuked Trump as well.
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., meanwhile, issued a defiant defense of the president, arguing that his remark was "clearly" not racist.
"He could have meant go back to the district they came from, to the neighborhood they came from," Harris told Bryan Nehman on Baltimore talk radio WBAL.
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, chalked up Trump's racist remarks to frustrations over Congress' lack of progress on a bipartisan immigration deal.
"The president is frustrated that Congress has not acted to solve the crisis at our border, and he expressed his frustrations in a way that didn't promote reconciliation across the aisle and across the country," Collins said in a statement.
And Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., issued a full-throated defense of Trump, saying in a tweet that "Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also ducked media questions about the controversy. The son of a Cuban emigre, Cruz was born in Canada before his family moved to the United States. Trump criticized Cruz during the 2016 presidential contest, including making false claims that Cruz's father played some role in President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
"I have a long-standing policy that I don't comment on tweets," Cruz told reporters. Informed that Monday's controversy came from Trump's own comments, carried on live television from the White House grounds, Cruz smiled, entered an elevator in the Capitol and said nothing.
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The Washington Post's Shane Harris, Seung Min Kim and John Wagner contributed to this report.
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