WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Sunday assailed a group of Democratic congresswomen of color as foreign-born troublemakers who should go back to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came,” ignoring the fact that the women are American citizens and all but one was born in the U.S. Trump’s tweets prompted a wave of searing condemnation from Democrats, who set aside their rifts to speak as one in calling Trump’s remarks racist and breathtakingly divisive.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president wants to “make America white again.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, jousting for days with Pelosi, said Trump “can’t conceive of an America that includes us.”
Trump was almost certainly referring to Ocasio-Cortez and her allies in what’s become known as “the squad.” The others are Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Only Omar, from Somalia, is foreign-born.
Ocasio-Cortez swiftly denounced his remarks . “Mr. President, the country I come from, & the country we all swear to, is the United States,” she tweeted. “You are angry because you can’t conceive of an America that includes us. You rely on a frightened America for your plunder.” Omar said, as if addressing, Trump: “You are stoking white nationalism (because) you are angry that people like us are serving in Congress and fighting against your hate-filled agenda.”
And Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, tweeted: “Racial arsonist strikes again. Shut. Your. Reckless. Mouth.”
With his tweet, Trump again inserted himself into a rift between Pelosi and the liberal congresswomen, after offering an unsolicited defense of the Democratic speaker days earlier. Pelosi has been seeking to minimize Ocasio-Cortez’s influence in recent days, prompting Ocasio-Cortez to accuse Pelosi of trying to marginalize women of color. “She is not a racist,” Trump said Friday.
On Sunday, Trump’s tone turned nativist.
“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,” he said in tweets.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”
He added: “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 attacks may have been meant to further the divides within the Democrat caucus, strained over internal debates on liberal policies and on whether to proceed with impeachment proceedings against Trump. Instead, Democrats united in denouncing the comments, which evoked the old racist trope of telling a black person to go back to Africa.
“Let’s be clear about what this vile comment is: A racist and xenophobic attack on Democratic congresswomen,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate.
Another 2020 contender, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, tweeted at the president: “This is racist. These congresswomen are every bit as American as you — and represent our values better than you ever will.”
Few Republicans weighed in on the president’s comments. Congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Sen. Tim. Scott of South Carolina, the only Republican black senator.
Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in a previously scheduled appearance on “Face the Nation” on CBS, said only: “You’re going to have to ask the president what he means by those specific tweets.”
Shortly after the tweets, and a later presidential post defending the harsh scenes at a border detention facility where hundreds of migrant men are being held in sweltering, foul-smelling conditions, Trump left the White House to go golfing at his Virginia club.
Trump appeared unbowed Sunday night when he returned to Twitter to say it was “so sad” to see Democrats sticking up for the women. “If the Democrat Party wants to continue to condone such disgraceful behavior,” he tweeted, “then we look even more forward to seeing you at the ballot box in 2020!”
It was far from the first time that Trump has been accused of holding racist views.
He launched his political career with the false claim that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. In his campaign kickoff in June 2015, he deemed many Mexican immigrants “rapists.” And last year, during a White House meeting on immigration, he wondered why the United States was admitting so many immigrants from “s***hole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and several African nations.
Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in suburban Westchester County.
Pressley, the first black woman elected to the House from Massachusetts, was born in Cincinnati.
Omar, the first Somali native elected to Congress and one of its first Muslim women, was born in Somalia but spent much of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp as civil war tore apart her home country. She immigrated to the United States at age 12, teaching herself English by watching American TV and eventually settling with her family in Minneapolis.
Tlaib was born in Detroit.