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Trump intensifies assault on progressive congresswomen despite outcry

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Fellow Republicans are starting to condemn his tweets and comments as racist, but the president is so far undeterred.

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President Donald Trump on Monday ramped up his attacks on four high-profile progressive congresswomen during incendiary, factually misleading remarks outside the White House, charging that the quartet of freshman lawmakers “hate” America “with a passion.”

“If you’re not happy here, then you can leave, as far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country,” the president told reporters, referring to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — the women of color whom Trump tweeted Sunday morning should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

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“That’s what I say all the time. That’s what I said in a tweet which I guess some people think is controversial. A lot of people love it, by the way, a lot of people love it,” Trump continued Monday. “But if you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave. You can leave right now. Come back if you want, don’t come back, that’s OK too. But if you’re not happy, you can leave.”

The invective-laden comments represented the president’s latest broadside against the congresswomen, after demanding an apology Monday morning from the liberal firebrands for their “horrible & disgusting actions.” The attacks helped unite Democrats in opposition to Trump’s rhetoric after a week of party infighting.

Trump had written Sunday that the four lawmakers “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe,” even though three of the House members were born in the United States. “These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements,” the president tweeted.

Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx borough of New York City, Pressley was born in Cincinnati, and Tlaib was born in Detroit. But it was Omar, a Somalian refugee who immigrated to the U.S. with her family in the early 1990s and became a citizen in 2000 when she was 17 years old, whom Trump most eagerly targeted while addressing the media Monday.

“In one case you have somebody that comes from Somalia, which is a failed government, a failed state, who left Somalia, who ultimately came here and now is a congresswoman who’s never happy. Says horrible things about Israel. Hates Israel. Hates Jews. Hates Jews. It’s very simple,” Trump said.

“I hear the way she talks about Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has killed many Americans. She said, ‘You could hold your chest out,'” the president continued, going on to add: “When she talked about the World Trade Center being knocked down, ‘Some people,’ you remember the famous, ‘Some people.’ These are people that in my opinion hate our country.”

It is not entirely clear to which episodes the president was referring during his statements about Omar, but the Minnesota lawmaker was criticized by conservatives in April after a video surfaced of her joking about her former professor in a college terrorism class, as well as for a speech she gave in March at a Council on American-Islamic Relations banquet.

After facing a harsh rebuke from congressional Democrats but virtually no pushback from elected Republicans for his incendiary tweets over the weekend, Trump had continued attacking the four freshmen Sunday evening.

“So sad to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion,” Trump wrote online. “Whenever confronted, they call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, ‘RACIST.’ Their disgusting language … and the many terrible things they say about the United States must not be allowed to go unchallenged.”

Trump added: “If the Democrat Party wants to continue to condone such disgraceful behavior, then we look even more forward to seeing you at the ballot box in 2020!”

House Democrats on Monday announced plans to draft a resolution to condemn Trump’s racist tweets, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) became the first high-profile Republican lawmaker to challenge the posts, urging the president to “aim higher” in his critiques of the congresswomen.

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

“Mr. President, you’re right about their policies. You’re right about where they will take the country. Just aim higher,” he said.

In a recent conversation Graham said he shared with the president, he urged Trump to “focus on what they want to do for America and to America, and compare it with what you’ve done. Don’t get personal. Don’t take the bait. This is not about a person. It is about a country. It is about a set of ideas. They’re on the wrong side of the future.”

But the president rejected Graham’s advice Monday afternoon.

“What am I supposed to do, just wait for senators? No. So I disagree with Lindsey on that. That was the only thing. He said ‘aim higher, shoot higher.’ What am I going to do, wait until we get somebody else in a higher position, higher office?” Trump said. “These are people that hate our country. … They hate it, I think, with a passion.”

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) was the first GOP member of Congress to object publicly to the berating of his Democratic colleagues, writing online Sunday night that “POTUS was wrong to say any American citizen, whether in Congress or not, has any ‘home’ besides the U.S.”

Several other Republican lawmakers began to take issue with the president’s tweets later Monday including Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who told CNN Trump “was wrong to suggest” the congresswomen “should go back to where they came from,” and called their citizenship “as valid as mine.”

Though Toomey noted he “couldn’t disagree more” with the four Democratic lawmakers on issues of policy, he argued Republicans “should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also said he strongly disagreed with the direction of the Democratic Party, but warned Trump was distracting from important GOP messaging. “The President interjected with unacceptable personal attacks and racially offensive language,” Scott said in a statement. “No matter our political disagreements, aiming for the lowest common denominator will only divide our nation further.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wrote online that Trump’s tweets “were flat out wrong and uncalled for,” and Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) said in a statement that the president remarks “are inappropriate and do not reflect American values.”

Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) also wrote online that the weekend posts “are not reflective of the values of” the constituents in his congressional district, and urged the president to “immediately disavow his comments.”

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) tweeted that he is “confident that every Member of Congress is a committed American,” adding that Trump’s tweets “were racist and he should apologize. We must work as a country to rise above hate, not enable it.”

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

But Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a member of the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus, stood by the president, saying he “absolutely” believes Trump was telling the congresswomen to return to their home districts and not leave the U.S.

“Clearly it’s not a racist comment. He could’ve meant go back to the district they came from, to the neighborhood they came from,” Harris told WBAL’s News Now in Baltimore, adding: “They all didn’t come from foreign countries, so you’d have to presume that it was not a country.”

Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, also backed up the president on Twitter, writing: “President Trump loves this country & doesn’t like it when elected officials constantly disparage it & spew anti-Semitic rhetoric. All Dems have leapt to defend the ‘Blame America First’ crowd when they really should be defending America & rooting out anti-Semitism in their ranks.”

And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at a news conference Monday afternoon he was “not concerned” by the Trump’s tweets. “I don’t find them racist. The president just went on and clarified his comments,” he said. “I think he speaks for himself on that.”

Ocasio-Cortez on Monday called the tweets “unfortunate” and “absolutely” a deliberate move by Trump, adding that he “relies on racism, division and anti-immigrant sentiment to consolidate power because he does not have a positive vision for the future of America.”

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro — the latest of several 2020 Democratic White House contenders to weigh in on the president’s tweetstorm — called the posts “disgusting” and “racist” on Monday, and claimed that many Republican officials are privately offended by Trump’s messages.

“There are a lot of Republican politicians that recognize that this is racist. They know that it’s wrong. They know what he’s doing. They’ve heard this phrase before about ‘Go back home,'” Castro told CNN.

“These Republican politicians understand that, but as others have said, they are afraid either to cross the president or to cross a base of people that they think they’re going to have to face in a primary,” he said.

Trump’s tweets have also become the subject of international condemnation, with spokesperson for outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May telling reporters on Monday that she found “the language used to refer to” the congresswomen “completely unacceptable.”

Marc Short, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence and the White House’s former legislative director, defended Trump’s rhetoric Monday morning on the Fox Business Network.

“When people write that the president has racist motives here, look at the reality of who’s actually serving in Donald Trump’s Cabinet,” Short said, pointing to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who is of Chinese descent. “He’s making a point about great frustration that a lot of people feel that I think it’s hard to find anything Ilhan Omar has actually said since elected to Congress that’s been positive about the United States of America.”

Chao and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson are the only two people of color in Trump’s cabinet.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, repeatedly dodged questions Monday about the president’s posts.

“I didn’t see that tweet, actually. I can hear what you’re reading, but I spent the weekend reading litigation and regulatory materials related to asylum,” Cuccinelli told CNN, adding: “I can see the president’s commenting on some of the splits in the democratic caucus in the house, presumably.”

When reminded that he was read Trump’s tweet during a Sunday appearance on CNN, Cuccinelli responded: “So what? So what? I told you I haven’t been on Twitter in 24 hours. I’m not in there doing the Twitter war.”

Cuccinelli insisted, however, that Trump’s controversial post was not racist, and disimssed it as “presumably political hand grenades.”

Trump’s social media ambush on the congresswomen followed a week of Democratic infighting between the liberal firebrands and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who tweeted in support of her four caucus members Sunday morning.

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

“I reject @realDonaldTrump’s xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation,” she continued. “Rather than attack Members of Congress, he should work with us for humane immigration policy that reflects American values. Stop the raids – #FamiliesBelongTogether!”

Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this report.

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