Wednesday 21 August 2019

'I'm no racist,' insists Trump as he renews Twitter attack

Hitting back: From left, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib look on as Ayanna Pressley speaks. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Hitting back: From left, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib look on as Ayanna Pressley speaks. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Ben Riley-Smith

Donald Trump insisted he did not have a "racist bone" in his body as he intensified his criticisms yesterday of four Democrat congresswomen amid a lack of criticism from Republicans.

The US president denied his initial tweet, telling left-wing congresswomen to "go back" to the countries they were from, was racist, instead continuing to suggest his political opponents "hate our country".

Mr Trump's lack of remorse was coupled with relative silence from leading Republicans in Congress, which some commentators have taken as a sign of how dominant the president's hold on the party has become.

Mr Trump was scrambling to contain the political backlash as he urged Republicans to reject a resolution in the House of Representatives saying his "racists comments" had "increased fear and hatred" among new Americans.

He also faces a new vote in the House, which is controlled by the Democrats, on whether to begin impeachment proceedings - the mechanism for removing him from office.

A Democrat congressman pledged to table the vote next week, though it seems unlikely to pass.

Back on attack: Donald Trump claims the women got ‘free pass’. Photo: Reuters
Back on attack: Donald Trump claims the women got ‘free pass’. Photo: Reuters

Mr Trump's initial tweet on Sunday, telling progressive Democrat congresswomen "who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe" to "go back" to where they come from, did not name his targets.

But four congresswomen of black or minority ethnic background known as The Squad - Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts - have since challenged Mr Trump, speaking out against his comments at a press conference at the US Capitol building.

All four are US citizens and only Ms Omar was born overseas, in Somalia.

They told reporters they wanted to refocus attention on to the president's policies.

Ms Pressley dismissed the president's efforts "to marginalise us and to silence us".

But, addressing the outcry over his initial remarks, Mr Trump tweeted yesterday: "Those tweets were NOT racist. I don't have a racist bone in my body!" He also renewed attacks on the congresswomen.

"The Democrat congresswomen have been spewing some of the most vile, hateful, and disgusting things ever said by a politician in the House or Senate, and yet they get a free pass and a big embrace from the Democrat Party," he wrote in one tweet.

Another read: "Our country is free, beautiful and very successful. If you hate our country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!"

There were pockets of criticism among Republicans, with Charlie Baker, the Massachusetts governor, calling the remarks "shameful" and "racist".

Anthony Scaramucci, Mr Trump's former White House communications director, broke ranks yesterday to call the president's comments "racist and unacceptable".

But many more Republicans did not go that far. Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate, called the remarks "demeaning" but repeatedly refused to say that they were racist.

Kevin McCarthy, the most senior Republican in the House, also said the comments were not racist.

Who's who in The Squad of Democrats

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The youngest ever congresswoman in the US, the 29-year-old Ms Ocasio-Cortez was born to parents of Puerto Rican descent.

The former barmaid from the Bronx is a high-profile critic of Mr Trump, most recently visiting migrant detention centres and calling them "dehumanising".

Ihan Omar: Ms Omar represents Minnesota and is the first Somali-American elected to Congress as well as one of its first two Muslim women. Born in Mogadishu, she moved to the US as a child. Her family was granted asylum in 1995 and Ms Omar became a naturalised citizen aged 17.

She was sworn in on the Koran and rules were changed in the House of Representatives to let her wear her hijab.

Rashida Tlaib: Detroit-born Ms Tlaib represents for Michigan, becoming the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress and one of the first two Muslim women. She has 13 younger siblings, was the first member of her family to graduate from high school. Hours after being sworn in in January, Ms Tlaib said: "We're going to impeach this mother------!"

Ayanna Pressley: The first African-American woman Massachusetts has elected to the US Congress, her political promise was spotted at high school - she was voted "most likely to be mayor of Chicago".She has described "the Squad" as "President Trump's worst nightmare".

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