Faced with an outcry in his own party, President Trump on Thursday disavowed the “send her back” chant that some of his campaign supporters directed at Somalia-born Rep. Ilhan Omar, saying he tried to stop it.
“I was not happy with it. I disagree with it,” the president told reporters at the White House. “I didn’t like that they did it.”
The president made his rare rebuke of some campaign supporters after a group of Republican lawmakers confronted Vice President Mike Pence privately at a breakfast meeting Thursday about the rhetoric at Mr. Trump’s rally in North Carolina.
The lawmakers expressed concern that if the chants continue, then the intolerant sentiment will label the entire Republican Party in an election year. Rep. Mark Walker, North Carolina Republican, called the chant unpatriotic.
Mr. Walker said he brought up the issue with Mr. Pence because he and other Republican lawmakers want to “make sure that we are not defined by that.”
“I just think it’s something that we want to address early,” Mr. Walker said. “We want our policies from the House and all the way up to the administration to define us, and we feel like we can win on that.”
The feud between the president and “The Squad” of four freshman Democratic lawmakers, including Ms. Omar, flared for a fifth straight day with the Minnesota Democrat accusing Mr. Trump of fascism.
“Nothing this president says should be taken to heart,” Ms. Omar said. “As much as he’s spewing his fascist ideology on stage, telling U.S. citizens to go back because they don’t agree with his detrimental policies for our country, we tell people that here in the United States, dissent is patriotic. Here in the United States, disagreement is welcome, debate is welcome, and especially in the people’s House, all of our voices are uplifted and heard.”
Staff from the Council on American-Islamic Relations paid a visit to Ms. Omar’s congressional office in a show of support. The far-left activist group Code Pink said it plans to hold a daylong “solidarity vigil” Friday at the lawmaker’s office.
With lawmakers reporting an increased number of threats against them, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she asked the sergeant-at-arms “to be sure our members have what they need for their protection.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York criticized the president for “racist incitements of violence” and claimed that Mr. Trump “put millions of Americans in danger.” She said House Democrats are “figuring out what extra security precautions will be taken.”
Asked whether she feels safe, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez replied, “Well, I don’t feel safer today than I did yesterday. But as each day goes on, the Republican Party’s targeted attacks and Trump’s targeted attacks puts us further in danger. Yesterday, it escalated to a very large degree.”
The latest flashpoint in their battle with the president appeared during Mr. Trump’s packed campaign rally Wednesday night at East Carolina University in Greenville.
The president criticized each member of the Democratic “Squad” individually but directed most of his indictment at Ms. Omar. He said Ms. Omar was an al Qaeda sympathizer and had “a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.”
At that point, boos from the crowd turned into chants by some to “send her back.”
“I was not happy with that message last night. I didn’t say it. They did,” the president said Thursday in the Oval Office. “I didn’t like that they did it.”
Asked why he did not stop the chant, the president replied, “I think I did. I started speaking very quickly.”
Video of the speech doesn’t support Mr. Trump’s memory. As the chant grew louder, the president remained silent at the podium, glancing left and right. After the chant was repeated at least seven times and subsided, the president resumed speaking.
He told reporters that the chant about Ms. Omar “started up rather fast.”
“It was quite a chant,” he said. “I felt a little bit badly about it.”
The president said he would try to prevent such chants at his rallies. He also praised the patriotism of his supporters.
“These are people that love our country,” Mr. Trump said. “I want them to keep loving our country. I think the congresswomen, by the way, should be more positive than they are.”
In a series of comments this week, Mr. Trump has accused the four Democratic lawmakers of un-American rhetoric, saying they “hate America.”
At the rally in Greenville, Mr. Trump said of the Democrats, “If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it. They can come back when they want, but, you know, they don’t love our country. I think in some cases they hate our country.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, and Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts were born in the U.S. Ms. Omar emigrated from Somalia as a child refugee and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernard Sanders teamed up Thursday with Ms. Omar in a joint fundraising pitch that cited the crowd’s chanting. In an email to supporters, Mr. Sanders said Ms. Omar “won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we.” He said the two were at dinner together when they learned of the chanting.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who has struggled in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination against accusations that he was too cooperative with segregationists, called on Mr. Trump to condemn the chanting.
“Mr. President, condemn, outright condemn, those folks,” Mr. Biden said. “Outright condemn the Ku Klux Klan. Outright condemn white supremacists. Let me hear you say, ‘I condemn them.’ “
The Trump campaign posted on Twitter newspaper articles from the 1980s in which Mr. Biden boasted that he had been praised by former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a leading segregationist most famous for standing at the door of the University of Alabama to keep blacks out and for vowing “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
“Hey @JoeBiden, maybe you forgot, but the only person in this race connected to George Wallace is you,” the Trump war room tweeted.
Some Republican lawmakers spoke out publicly about the episode at the president’s campaign rally. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that he was “disgusted.”
“Chants like ‘send her back’ are ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union,” Mr. Kinzinger said.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said most Republican lawmakers aren’t speaking out against the rhetoric because “it benefits them.”
“So long as this president can get more and more people to buy into racist rhetoric, it will benefit [Republicans],” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “It seems right now they’re not standing up for it because they’re benefiting.”
She said the rhetoric is “dragging our country backwards.”
Ms. Omar gestured to a group of her constituents at the Capitol and told reporters, “This president does not speak for them. And we are going to make sure that we get a president that we could be proud of.”
The four freshman Democrats have been among Mr. Trump’s most vocal critics. They have called for his impeachment and harshly criticized his border security policies. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez recently compared Border Patrol facilities to Nazi concentration camps.
The president said Ms. Omar and her Democratic colleagues have “the obligation … to love your country.”
“They have such hatred,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ve seen statements that they made with such hatred toward our country, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. They should embrace our country. They should love our country. And things would be a lot better.”
⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.
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