Congress

'Send her back' chant chills Washington

Some Republicans criticize crowd at Trump rally; McConnell says Trump is ‘onto something’ with attacks on progressive ‘squad’

President Donald Trump speaks during his “Keep America Great” rally Wednesday in Greenville, North Carolina, where a chant of “Send her back” broke out about Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

The words “send her back” briefly drowned out the President Donald Trump’s speech in Greenville, North Carolina, last night, and quickly sent chills through Washington.

Trump carried his screed against Rep. Ilhan Omar from Twitter on to the stage of a campaign stop Wednesday night, prompting supporters to respond that he should “send her back” to the country she emigrated from as a child. The moment stoked fear about both the safety of the congresswoman and about the ramifications of the nation’s most powerful politician inflaming racial and religious hatred.

The president’s Democratic rivals rapidly condemned his diatribe and the crowd’s approving chant as “racist,”“vile” and “disturbing.”  

Omar, an outspoken progressive, has become a favorite target of Republicans. She made history last year as one of the first Muslim women elected to the House and the first sitting member of Congress to wear a hijab.

Omar stumbled early in her term when she tweeted that U.S. politicians fail to address human rights abuses by Israel because of the influence of the lobby AIPAC, tweeting “it’s all about the Benjamins,” prompting concerns from some lawmakers that she had fallen into an anti-Semitic trope. 

But Trump’s criticism of the congresswoman did not center on those words, instead veering into conspiracy. He accused her of sympathy with terrorists, a gross distortion of a 2013 interview and Islamophobic rhetoric used to tar other high-profile Muslim politicians

Omar responded by sharing a picture of her on the House dais.  “I am where I belong, at the people’s house and you’re just gonna have to deal!” she wrote.

The rally represented a continuation of Trump’s racist call for four first-term progressive members of Congress to “go back” to “the crime infested countries from which they came,” which Republicans in the House voted against condemning Tuesday. 

The president has repeatedly restated his view that their non-European ancestry should disqualify them from leveling criticism of American policies.

“They never have anything good to say. If they don’t like it, let ’em leave,” Trump said Wednesday.

Trump began the week by exploiting tensions between centrists in Democratic leadership and the progressive squad. But Trump's taunts rallied the opposition caucus instead. 

The liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee launched a 30-second television ad on Wednesday highlighting Republicans who have stopped short of condemning the president's racist tweet. The ad was updated on Thursday to include audio of the "send her back" chant, with red text flashing across the screen that read, "This is not normal." The ad is running on cable in D.C. as well as Louisville, Ky., and Sioux City, Iowa, aimed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King

[With racist tweets and comments, Trump signals bare-knuckled reelection fight]

And even Republicans who agree with the president’s premise that Omar should curtail her criticism U.S. policies or risk being “un-American” expressed concern with the “send her back” chant. 

“Though it was brief, I struggled with the ‘send her back’ chant tonight referencing Rep. Omar,” North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker said in a tweet. “Her history, words [and] actions reveal her great disdain for both America [and] Israel. That should be our focus and not phrasing that’s painful to our friends in the minority communities.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an ally of the president on immigration issues, said he was “disgusted” with the chant.

GOP operatives expect the four Democratic congresswomen will remain a key focus of Trump’s reelection strategy, at least until the party formally picks a presidential nominee next summer. In down-ballot races, the women have already been the focus of  television ads and campaigns by the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

In an interview with Fox Business on Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cursorily addressed the president’s nativist rhetoric, then pivoted to the party’s opposition to ideas championed by the Democratic party’s left flank like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and higher taxes paid by the country’s top earners. 

McConnell said Trump was “onto something” about trying to make the politics of Omar, and Reps. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan a campaign issue.

“He’s right about ‘the squad’ wanting to turn us into a socialist country,” McConnell said, but later added, “We ought to tone the rhetoric down.”  

John T. Bennett contributed to this report. 

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