White House

Trump says House ‘Squad’ congresswomen should ‘apologize’ to him after ‘go back’ tweet

President makes false statement about three female members as his staff focuses on Rep. Omar

Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left, and Ilhan Omar  attend a rally on the East Front of the Capitol in February. President Trump has called on them to "go back" to other countries rather than criticize the U.S. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump is not backing down after calling on minority Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to the countries of their ancestry, tweeting on Monday that they should apologize — not him.

The president on Sunday drew immediate outrage from Democratic members and other critics when he lashed out at a handful of freshman House Democrats who have been in a war of words with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California while also sharply criticizing Trump since before they took office in January. They also support impeachment proceedings against him, something that has angered him for months.

He took to Twitter before a round of golf Sunday — he also played Saturday at his Sterling, Virginia, club — to say Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts all “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.”

(FACT CHECK: Three of the women are U.S. citizens who were born in the United States. Omar was born in Somalia, but is a U.S. citizen.)

Trump then fired off a second Sunday tweet with this broadside that likely will please his conservative base: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”

[Road ahead: Pressure rising for debt limit deal]

But as the workweek began, Trump did what he so often does with his rhetorical battles: He doubled down. (On policy matters, however, he has shown a pattern of talking tough before backing down. He did so again last week with his decision to drop a push to add a citizenship question to the census.)

The White House on Monday zeroed in on Omar, who was pressured into apologizing earlier this year for comments even many Democrats described as anti-Semitic.

“If the Democrats choose to want to unite around Omar, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out for them,” Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, said in a TV interview.

Short, who has been Trump’s top congressional envoy and a leading public defender, urged critics who call the president “racist” to look at the “reality of who serves in Donald Trump’s Cabinet.” Just what Short meant is unclear because most of Trump’s Cabinet is white; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is black, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was born in Taipei and has Chinese parents.

Short contended that Trump’s Sunday tweet was him “making a point about a great frustration that a lot of people feel: It’s hard to find anything that Ilhan Omar has said since elected to Congress that’s positive about the United States of America.”

Trump used a tweet about an hour after his first Monday morning post to echo Short.

“If Democrats want to unite around the foul language & racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular & unrepresentative Congresswomen, it will be interesting to see how it plays out,” he wrote. “I can tell you that they have made Israel feel abandoned by the U.S.”

(FACT CHECK: Trump’s administration continues to provide military aid to Israel, and National Security Adviser John Bolton was just there amid tensions with Iran. In fact, at about $3.8 billion a year, Israel gets more U.S. military aid than any other country.)

Republican lawmakers have mostly been mum since the president’s Sunday tweet. For them, pushing back on a chief executive who is popular with their shared conservative base would risk Trump supporting a right-wing primary challenger who might defeat them. (Trump still polls in the high 80 percent level with Republican voters, and even higher among staunch conservatives.)

Trump on Monday, as he often does, cast himself as the victim.

“When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said,” he tweeted Monday morning. “So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!”

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Trump’s decision to attack the so-called “Squad,” a nickname the four freshman congresswomen have taken on, comes amid his highest approval ratings since he took office. A Washington Post-ABC News survey put his approval rating at 47 percent; it had hovered around 40 percent for most of his term.

Pelosi and other Democrats, including the ones to which Trump was alluding, quickly responded, with the speaker calling his tweets “xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation.” And Ocasio-Cortez posted a series of tweets, including one that had this message for the president: “Mr. President, the country I ‘come from,’ & the country we all swear to, is the United States.

“But given how you’ve destroyed our border with inhumane camps, all at a benefit to you & the corps who profit off them, you are absolutely right about the corruption laid at your feet,” she said, referring to migrant detention camps that she and other Latino lawmakers toured during the July Fourth recess and reported squalid conditions and children struggling to cope.

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