Trump tries to distance himself from 'Send her back' chants despite silence at rally
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday sought to distance himself from supporters' chants of "Send her back" after he criticized Somali-born Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar at a rally in North Carolina.
"I felt a little bit badly about it," Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about the chants, which drew an outpouring of criticism. "I disagreed with it. But again I didn't say that. They did. And I disagreed with."
Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump claimed he tried to stop the chant, which came after he recited a litany of complaints about Omar, the Minnesota representative who fled to the U.S. as a child with her family from violence-wracked Somalia. Video shows the president pausing his remarks, appearing to drink in the uproar and not admonishing his supporters as they chanted.
"I was not happy with it," Trump said a day later as some prominent Republicans criticized the chant at the president's re-election event. He said he "would certainly try" to stop the chant should it return at a subsequent rally.
Watch Trump's reaction to the chants at his rally:
So far, no GOP lawmakers are directly taking on Trump over the episode. Omar, however, responded bluntly to Trump and the chants.
"We have said this president is racist. We have condemned his racist remarks. I believe he is fascist," she said. "I want to remind people that this is what this president and his supporters have taught our country that is supposed to be a country where we allow democratic debate and dissent to take place.
"And so this is not about me. This is about us fighting for what this country truly should be."
Watch Omar call Trump 'fascist':
The muted reactions by congressional Republicans followed a pattern that's become familiar after numerous incidents in Trump's presidency when he's made antagonistic or racially provocative comments.
At the Wednesday campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., Trump tore into the four progressive freshman congresswomen — Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — who last weekend he tweeted should return to their native countries if they "hate America."
All of the four who strongly oppose many of Trump's policies are U.S. citizens, and three were born in the U.S.
Some Republicans criticize chant
Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that such cries "have no place in our party and no place in this country."
But McCarthy, a staunch Trump ally, said the president's aversion to Omar is based on ideology, not race.
"This is about socialism versus freedom," he said, a refrain Republicans are increasingly using as they begin trying to frame their offensive against Democrats for the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the "Send her back" chant was "ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union."
Rep. Tom Emmer, who heads the House Republicans' campaign organization, told reporters, "There's no place for that kind of talk. I don't agree with it."
But he defended Trump, saying there isn't "a racist bone in this president's body" and asserting that Trump "said wrong" what he actually meant.
"What he was trying to say is that if you don't appreciate this country, you don't have to be here. That goes for every one of us. It has nothing to do with your race, your gender, your family history. It has to do with respecting and loving the country that has given you the opportunities which you have."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox Business News that it's time to "lower the rhetoric" about racism. He did not mention the crowd's chants or Trump's acceptance of them.
The Democratic-led House voted Tuesday to condemn Trump's tweets as racist. On Wednesday, it rejected an effort by one Democrat that was opposed by party leaders to impeach Trump.