Washington – President Donald Trump, under fire for tweets attacking Rep. Ilhan Omar and three other first-term Democratic congresswomen, renewed his assault on the Minnesota Democrat on Monday during a formal presentation before dozens of business owners gathered on the South Lawn to celebrate American entrepreneurship.
Speaking at a White House event to honor American manufacturers, including Minnesota-based 3M, Trump mounted a lengthy attack on Omar, accusing her of saying “how great al-Qaida is” and claiming she “hates Jews.” Omar has never made a comment suggesting al-Qaida is “great,” nor has she ever said she hates Jews.
Omar and her three colleagues — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — held a news conference in the Capitol to respond to Trump’s attacks, saying they were not surprised by the president’s remarks and vowed not to be silenced by them.
Omar hit back hard at Trump, criticizing what she called “the bile and garbage that comes out of his mouth” and renewing her call to impeach Trump, who she said has “overseen the most corrupt administration in our history.”
“This is the agenda of white nationalists. … This is his plan to pit us against one another,” Omar said.
Pressley began by voicing gratitude for the support the four have received in light of the “most recent xenophobic, bigoted remarks from the occupant of our White House.”
“I encourage the American people and all of us — in this room and beyond — to not take the bait,” Pressley said.
Addressing the children of the United States, Ocasio-Cortez rejected Trump’s words and said that they were the opposite of what America stands for. “No matter what the president says, this country belongs to you. And it belongs to everyone. … This weekend, that very notion was challenged,” she said.
Trump’s comments followed a series of presidential tweets over the weekend directed at Omar and her three liberal colleagues, all women of color. The Republican president said the four, whom he did not name, should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”
Of the four, only Omar was not born in the United States. She was born in Somalia and immigrated with her family to the U.S. as a child. She is the first Somali-American member of Congress.
Omar also ran through some of the most infamous statements from Trump’s past and said it’s ironic that Trump would condemn politicians who criticize government policies given the theme of his 2016 campaign. “When this president ran and until today, he talked about everything that was wrong in this country and how he was going to make it great,” Omar said. “And so for him to condemn us and to say we are un-American for wanting to work hard to make this country be the country we all deserve to live in? Complete hypocrisy.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who last week faced blowback for critical comments about the four congresswomen, turned her attention to Trump over the weekend. His attack on the four congresswomen “reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again,” she tweeted on Sunday.
Pelosi announced on Monday that Democratic leaders were preparing a vote on a House resolution condemning what she called “disgraceful” and “xenophobic language” in Trump’s weekend tweets.
Trump was asked at the White House ceremony whether it concerned him that many people found his tweets to be racist, given that they specifically singled out four women of color.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump said. Of the four women, he said: “They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.”
While Trump’s attack appeared designed to divide Democrats, many rallied around the four freshmen congresswomen, who have recently clashed with Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.
Among those condemning Trump’s attack was U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a presidential candidate. “This is reprehensible, racist, and xenophobic,” she tweeted Sunday. “It is unacceptable for the President of the United States to tweet something like this. Period.”
Gov. Tim Walz also defended Omar and the other three congresswomen. “The four members of Congress are American citizens. They’re U.S. representatives,” he said Monday. “The place they go back to is the United States. Dividing this country along racial lines is unacceptable.”
Local minority and immigration activists also denounced the president’s tweets, which to some had a familiar ring. “ ‘Go back to where you came from’ is a classic phrase from overt racists directed towards black and brown people,” tweeted Ron Harris, the city of Minneapolis’ chief resilience officer and a member of the Democratic National Committee. “Your president uttering these words is no exception to this rule. At this point, to deny his racism is an unequivocal statement about your own.”
Republican Party officials in Minnesota remained silent, as did the state’s three Republican members of Congress. None responded to requests for comment.
GOP leaders in Washington also appeared reluctant to speak out, although some rank-and-file House members voiced criticism, including Texas congressmen Will Hurd, Pete Olson and Chip Roy. Hurd represents a heavily Latino border district; Olson represents a suburban Houston district with a large immigrant population; and Roy was a top aide to Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, once a top GOP rival of Trump.
Roy tweeted Sunday that “POTUS was wrong to say any American citizen, whether in Congress or not, has any ‘home’ besides the U.S.” A hard-liner on illegal immigration, Roy also added: “I just as
Strongly believe noncitizens who abuse our immigration laws should be sent home immediately, & Reps who refuse to defend America should be sent home 11/2020” — a reference to Election Day.
Other Republicans denied that the president’s remarks were racist, while some merely criticized the language he used.
During a television appearance Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump’s most vocal allies on Capitol Hill, called Omar and her colleagues socialists who “hate Israel,” but suggested that Trump focus on the policy differences and not attack them personally.
“Aim higher. They are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies,” Graham said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”
Omar was the only one of the four that Trump mentioned by name on Monday. He called Somalia a “failed government and failed state.”
Omar faced criticism earlier this year after a tweet and a subsequent public comment that even many fellow Democrats said played on anti-Semitic tropes.
Trump also referred back to coverage in conservative media of comments Omar previously made about al-Qaida and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In a 2013 interview, before running for office, Omar discussed how people change their tone of voice when talking about al-Qaida. And earlier this year, she described the 2001 attacks with the term, “some people did something.” Republicans criticized the comment as dismissive.