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White House

The Republican Reaction to Trump’s “Go Back” Tweets

President Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 16, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

On Tuesday night, the House of Representatives voted to condemn as racist President Trump’s Sunday morning tweets telling four Democratic congresswomen — all of whom are American citizens, all of whom are racial minorities, and all but one of whom were born in the United States — to “go back” to the countries from which they came.

Only four Republicans — Will Hurd of Texas, Fred Upton of Michigan, Susan Brooks of Indiana, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania — voted with the unified Democratic caucus in favor of the resolution.

Ohio GOP congressman Mike Turner, who wrote on Twitter on Monday that Trump’s comments were racist, voted against the resolution on Tuesday condemning Trump’s comments as racist. “The resolution on the floor was a political stunt by Nancy Pelosi that I do not support,” Turner said in a written statement provided to National Review. Turner’s office did not explain why he thought it was a “political stunt.” In January, the House voted in favor of a resolution condemning comments about white nationalism by Iowa Republican Steve King. In March, anti-Semitic remarks by Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar prompted the House to vote on a resolution that condemned various forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism, but did not single out Omar. 

House Republicans were urged to vote against the resolution about President Trump by GOP leaders on Tuesday. In a message sent to all Republicans in the House, Minority Whip Steve Scalise recommended a “no” vote because “Democrats are prioritizing politics over upholding the rules, precedents and dignity of the people’s House by engaging in personal attacks towards President Trump in the text of this legislation, which would be a breach of decorum if read by a Member on the floor.” In a strange twist, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had violated House rules by calling Trump’s tweets racist in a floor speech while debating the resolution condemning Trump’s tweets as racist. (House Democrats then voted to let Pelosi’s comments stand.)

In the Senate, several Republicans have expressed disapproval of Trump’s comments. South Carolina senator Tim Scott called Trump’s tweets “racially offensive.” Marco Rubio said: “It damages the country, and none of us should be participants in identity politics.” Rubio stopped short of calling the comments racist, but in 2016 when he was asked if he had ever experienced racism, he cited an occasion when his family was told to “go back” to Cuba. Maine senator Susan Collins called the president’s comments “way over the line.” When Iowa senator Joni Ernst was asked if Trump’s tweets were racist, she told CNN: “Uh, yeah. They’re American citizens.” 

Anthony Scaramucci, who served as Donald Trump’s White House Communications director for about a week in 2017, tweeted: “Would @realDonaldTrump ever tell a white immigrant – whether 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th+ generation – to ‘go back to your country’? No. That’s why the comments were racist and unacceptable.” Others have noted that the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that harassment on the basis of national origin includes “comments like, ‘Go back to where you came from.’” 

Some Republican senators, including Steve Daines of Montana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have nevertheless defended the president’s tweets. Others, including Mike Lee of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have stayed silent on the controversy.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell weighed in at a Tuesday afternoon at his weekly press conference. The president and members of congress should “elevate the discourse,” McConnell said. “The tone of all of this is not good for the country, but it’s coming from all different ideological points of view. That’s the point. To single out any segment of this, I think is a mistake.” McConnell’s rhetoric echoed that of House Democrats from March of this year. When Ilhan Omar made anti-Semitic comments, Democrats declined to single out Omar for condemnation. “I think there ought to be a resolution that ought to be condemning all the -isms,” Democratic congressman Emanuel Cleaver said at the time.

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