Washington – After being singled out by President Donald Trump with racist tweets, four Democratic congresswomen, including Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, chose to stand together before the cameras and defend their vision for their country.
Omar and her three colleagues — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — held a news conference on Monday in the Capitol to respond to Trump’s attacks, saying they were not surprised by the president’s remarks and vowed not to be silenced by them.
Omar hit back hard at Trump, criticizing what she called “the bile and garbage that comes out of his mouth” and renewing her call to impeach Trump, who she said has “overseen the most corrupt administration in our history.”
“This is the agenda of white nationalists. … This is his plan to pit us against one another,” Omar said.
Pressley voiced gratitude for the support the four have received in light of the “most recent xenophobic, bigoted remarks from the occupant of our White House.”
“I encourage the American people and all of us — in this room and beyond — to not take the bait,” Pressley said.
Addressing the nation’s children, Ocasio-Cortez rejected Trump’s words and said that they were the opposite of what America stands for. “No matter what the president says, this country belongs to you. And it belongs to everyone. … This weekend, that very notion was challenged,” she said.
Meanwhile Trump, speaking at a White House event on Monday to honor American manufacturers, including Minnesota-based 3M, renewed his assault on Omar during a formal presentation before dozens of business owners gathered on the South Lawn to celebrate American entrepreneurship.
Trump mounted a lengthy attack on Omar, accusing her of saying “how great al-Qaida is” and claiming she “hates Jews.” Omar has never made a comment suggesting al-Qaida is “great,” nor has she ever said she hates Jews.
Trump’s comments followed a series of presidential tweets over the weekend directed at Omar and her three liberal colleagues, all women of color. The Republican president said the four, whom he did not name, should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”
Of the four, only Omar was not born in the United States. She was born in Somalia and immigrated with her family to the U.S. as a child. She is the first Somali-American member of Congress.
Omar also ran through some of the most infamous statements from Trump’s past and said it’s ironic that Trump would condemn politicians who criticize government policies given the theme of his 2016 campaign. “When this president ran and until today, he talked about everything that was wrong in this country and how he was going to make it great,” Omar said. “And so for him to condemn us and to say we are un-American for wanting to work hard to make this country be the country we all deserve to live in? Complete hypocrisy.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who last week faced blowback for critical comments about the four congresswomen, turned her attention to Trump over the weekend. His attack on the four congresswomen “reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again,” she tweeted on Sunday.
Pelosi announced on Monday that Democratic leaders were preparing a vote on a House resolution condemning what she called “disgraceful” and “xenophobic language” in Trump’s weekend tweets.
Trump was asked at the White House ceremony whether it concerned him that many people found his tweets to be racist, given that they specifically singled out four women of color.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump said. Of the four women, he said: “They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.”
While Trump’s attack appeared designed to divide Democrats, many rallied around the four freshmen congresswomen, who have recently clashed with Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.
Among those condemning Trump’s attack was U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a presidential candidate. “This is reprehensible, racist, and xenophobic,” she tweeted Sunday. “It is unacceptable for the President of the United States to tweet something like this. Period.”
Gov. Tim Walz also defended Omar and the other three congresswomen. “The four members of Congress are American citizens. They’re U.S. representatives,” he said Monday. “The place they go back to is the United States. Dividing this country along racial lines is unacceptable.”
Local minority and immigration activists also denounced the president’s tweets, which to some had a familiar ring. “ ‘Go back to where you came from’ is a classic phrase from overt racists directed towards black and brown people,” tweeted Ron Harris, the city of Minneapolis’ chief resilience officer and a member of the Democratic National Committee. “Your president uttering these words is no exception to this rule. At this point, to deny his racism is an unequivocal statement about your own.”
Republican Party officials in Minnesota remained silent, as did the state’s three Republican members of Congress. None responded to requests for comment.
Several GOP leaders in Washington spoke out, while also taking a swipe at the four lawmakers.
“I disagree strongly with many of the views and comments of some of the far-left members of the House Democratic Caucus — especially when it comes to their views on socialism, their anti-Semitic rhetoric, and their negative comments about law enforcement — but the President’s tweet that some Members of Congress should go back to the ‘places from which they came’ was way over the line, and he should take that down,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement.
And Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Trump “failed very badly yesterday and today”; he called the president’s comments “destructive and demeaning and in some ways dangerous.”
Some rank-and-file House members also voiced criticism, including Texas congressmen Will Hurd, Pete Olson and Chip Roy. Hurd represents a heavily Latino border district; Olson represents a suburban Houston district with a large immigrant population; and Roy was a top aide to Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, once a top GOP rival of Trump.
Omar was the only one of the four that Trump mentioned by name on Monday. He called Somalia a “failed government and failed state.”
Omar faced criticism earlier this year after a tweet and a subsequent public comment that even many fellow Democrats said played on anti-Semitic tropes.
Omar’s February tweet that American political support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” and in a speech three weeks later on U.S. policy toward Israel, drew broad condemnation. She later apologized.
Trump also referred back to coverage in conservative media of comments Omar previously made about al-Qaida and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In a 2013 interview, before running for office, Omar discussed how people change their tone of voice when talking about al-Qaida. And earlier this year, she described the 2001 attacks with the term, “some people did something.” Republicans criticized the comment as dismissive.
The Washington Post contributed to this report. Jim Spencer • 202-662-7432 Patrick Condon • 202-662-7452