Starkly injecting race into his criticism of liberal Democrats, President Trump said over the weekend that four congresswomen of color should go back to the “broken and crime infested” countries they came from, ignoring the fact that all of the women are American citizens and that three of them were born in the United States.
His attacks, which ran over to Monday, drew searing condemnations from Democrats who labeled the remarks racist and breathtakingly divisive.
The president’s nativist tweets moved Democrats to set aside their internal rifts to rise up in a united chorus against the president. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, paraphrasing a Trump slogan, said the president actually wants to “make America white again.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, just days after jousting with Pelosi, said Trump “can’t conceive of an America that includes us.”
Trump, who has a long history of making racist remarks, was almost certainly referring to Ocasio-Cortez and three of her House allies who are members of what has 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.
Pressley, the first black woman elected to the House from Massachusetts, was born in Cincinnati. She provided a statement to WBUR in response to Trump’s remarks on Sunday.
“On a day when ICE is carrying out cruel raids in cities across the country — creating yet more fear and trauma in our immigrant communities — it should come as no surprise that a man who has made it his goal to dehumanize and rip apart immigrant families would so brazenly display the racism that drives his policies,” Pressley said in the statement. “Congresswoman Omar, Congresswoman Tlaib, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, and I represent four of the most diverse districts in America, and the president’s attacks illustrate his abhorrent lack of respect for the hundreds of thousands of people we represent.”
In Washington on Monday, Pressley suggested that “the Squad” is a lot more than just four votes, because it is advocating for issues supported by millions of Americas — from health care, to affordable housing, to opposing putting kids in cages at the border.
“Our squad is big,” Pressley said. “Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world.” She added that despite the president’s latest distraction, which is dominating the news out of Washington this week, she is eager to get back to work. “Given the size of this squad,” she said, “we will not be silenced.”
With his tweet, Trump inserted himself further into a rift between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez, just two days after he offered an unsolicited defense of the Democratic speaker. Pelosi has been seeking to minimize Ocasio-Cortez’s influence in the House Democratic caucus in recent days, prompting the latter to accuse Pelosi of trying to marginalize women of color.
“She is not a racist,” Trump said of Pelosi on Friday.
On Sunday, Trump’s tone took a turn: “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 tweeted.
“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 widen the divides within the Democrat caucus, which has been riven by internal debate over how far left to go in countering Trump and over whether to proceed with impeachment proceedings against the president. Instead, Trump’s tweets, which evoked the trope of telling black people to go back to Africa, brought Democrats together.
Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to swiftly denounce his remarks. Mr. President, the country I “come from,” & the country we all swear to, is the United States. But given how you’ve destroyed our border with inhumane camps, all at a benefit to you & the corps who profit off them, you are absolutely right about the corruption laid at your feet.
In his campaign kickoff in June 2015, Trump deemed many Mexican immigrants “rapists.” In 2017, he said there were good people on “both sides” of the clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists and anti-racist demonstrators that left one counter-protester dead. Last year, during a private White House meeting on immigration, Trump wondered why the United States was admitting so many immigrants from “shithole countries” like African nations.
Repeatedly, Trump has painted arriving immigrants as an “infestation” and he has been slow in condemning acts of violence committed by white supremacists. And he launched his political career with false claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
Despite his history of racist remarks, Trump has paid little penalty in his own party.
Though a broad array of Republicans did speak out against his reaction to Charlottesville, they have largely held their tongues otherwise, whether it be on matter of race or any other Trump provocation. Fearful of his Twitter account and sweeping popularity among Republican voters, GOP lawmakers have largely tried to ignore the provocative statements.
Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in suburban Westchester County.
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.
With reporting from The Associated Press’ Jonathan Lemire and Calvin Woodward and the WBUR newsroom, including Anthony Brooks.