WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday chided his supporters who chanted “send her back” when he questioned the loyalty of a Somali-born congresswoman, joining widespread criticism of the campaign crowd's cry after fellow Republicans warned it could hurt the GOP in next year's elections.
In a week that has corkscrewed daily with hostile exchanges over race and love of country, Trump also claimed he had tried to stop the chant at a reelection rally Wednesday night in North Carolina.
“I started speaking really quickly,” he told reporters. “I was not happy with it. I disagree with it” and “would certainly try” to stop any similar chant at a future rally.
However, video shows the crowd's “send her back” shouts resounded for 13 seconds as Trump made no attempt to interrupt them. He paused and surveyed the scene, taking in the uproar.
The taunt's target – Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota – was pressed for a response Thursday.
“This is what this president and his supporters have turned our country” into, she said as she walked outside the U.S. Capitol. “This is not about me. This is about fighting about what this country truly should be and what it deserves to be.”
“I believe he is fascist,” she said.
Trump, though taking issue with the chant, didn't back away Thursday from his criticism of Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen of color.
They have “a big obligation and the obligation is to love your country,” he said. “There's such hatred. They have such hatred.”
Trump started the week's tumult by tweeting Sunday that Omar and the other three freshmen could “go back” to their native countries if they were unhappy here. His other targets – all Trump detractors – were Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
All are American citizens, and all but Omar were born in the U.S. She fled to America as a child with her family from violence-wracked Somalia.
Citing Trump's rhetoric, House Democrats said they were discussing arranging security for Omar and the three other congresswomen.
The chants at the Trump rally brought scathing criticism from GOP lawmakers as well as from Democrats.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California declared the chant has “no place in our party and no place in this country.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that it was “ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.”
Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, a conservative who attended Trump's rally and called the chant “offensive,” was among about 10 House GOP leaders who had breakfast Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence at Pence's residence in Washington. Walker said he cautioned Pence that attention to the chant could distract voters next year from the economy and other themes Republicans want to emphasize.
The lawmakers attending agreed the chant was inappropriate, and Pence concurred and said he'd discuss it with Trump, said another participant who described the conversation on condition of anonymity.
In North Carolina, Trump berated each of the four congresswomen and said: “They never have anything good to say. That's why I say, 'Hey if you don't like it, let 'em leave, let 'em leave.'” He added, “I think in some cases they hate our country.”
His criticism of Omar included a false accusation that she has voiced pride in al-Qaida.