Congressional Republicans emerged from their hiding places to try to dispel the uproar over President Donald Trump’s xenophobic tweets targeting four nonwhite Democratic lawmakers. Sadly, they and ended up humiliating themselves when one by one bowed down to defend the president by declaring “he is not a racist.”
Trump’s tweet from Sunday saying that the progressive lawmakers should “go back” to their home countries — even though all of them are U.S. citizens — and his racist rhetoric during a Rose Garden ceremony Monday, set GOP lawmakers scrambling to control the political fallout.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell tried to quell the controversy by calling for a broad ceasefire in Washington.
“The president is not a racist,” McConnell responded after reporters pressed him Tuesday afternoon on whether Trump’s tweets were racist or whether the GOP leader himself would ever use such language.
McConnell suggested that the president, as well as the House Democratic freshmen with whom Trump has feuded over Twitter, are responsible for letting things spin out of control.
“I think there’s a consensus that political rhetoric has really gotten way, way overheated all across the political spectrum,” he said.
McConnell tried to have it both ways by distancing his party from Trump’s rhetoric while also being careful not to alienate the anger-prone president and his racist supporters, mirrored the balancing act that many GOP lawmakers are trying to pull off, with mixed results.
A handful of Republican lawmakers facing potentially tough races next year in Colorado, Maine, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona took different tacks in their responses, signaling the lack of a general plan on how to react to the president’s most incendiary and unexpected statements.
Sen. Martha McSally (Ariz.), one of the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbents, let it be known through a spokeswoman that she would not comment on the matter.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who has a tough race in a state Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, said he disagreed with Trump’s language, though stopped short of calling it racist.
“I disagree with them. I wouldn’t have said them. I wouldn’t have done that,” he said. “That’s not what we ought to focus on in this country.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa), a member of Senate GOP leadership and a top Democratic target in 2020, acknowledged Monday that she thought Trump’s comments were racist.
“Uh, yeah. They’re American citizens,” she said, referring to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). Only Omar, who was born in Somalia, is an immigrant.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is up for reelection in another state that voted for Clinton, on Monday urged Trump to delete his tweets.
One aide to a vulnerable Senate Republican incumbent said lawmakers in swing states are “boxed in” because if they criticize Trump’s language, they risk angering his supporters, but if they defend the president, they could alienate swing and minority voters.
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