President Donald Trump on Thursday, in a rare move, broke with his supporters one day removed from a Greenville, N.C., crowd chanted “Send her back!” after he criticized Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Trump had whipped the Pitt County crowd into a frenzy by calling Democrats “socialists” and accusing Omar of “vicious, anti-Semitic screeds.”
Before he could continue, the arena erupted into the “Send her back!” chant.
His supporters were keying off his Sunday tweet in which he said Omar and her three fellow-House “squad” colleagues, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.
A day later, Trump summoned the day’s press pool to an unplanned press availability in the Oval Office.
“It was quite a chant,” he said, contending he “started speaking very quickly” after the chant.
But video shows him backing away from his podium to let the chant continue.
“I was not happy with it,” the president claimed, “I disagree with it.”
When asked why his supporters felt compelled to do the chant, Trump said, “I would suggest you go there, you go to North Carolina, and you ask the people why they did that.”
About an hour later, alongside his Dutch counterpart in the Oval Office, Trump repeated his criticism of the chant. But he also said the “squad” members “have a big obligation — and the obligation is to love your country.”
“There’s such hatred, they have such hatred,” he said of the congresswomen. “I’ve seen statement that they made with such hatred toward our country. And I don’t think that’s a good thing. They should embrace our country, they should love our country and things would be a lot better.”
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill it is “good” that Trump disavowed the chant, saying he also disagrees with it.
“The point is, from Trump’s point of view, you asked me if he’s a racist. A racist would say, ‘Everyone from Somalia needs to go back,’” Graham said. “He’s more of a narcissist than a racist. If you’re a Somali refugee and you're a Trump person, he embraces. You’ll probably be eating dinner at the White House. It’s about the attacks against him, not where she comes from.”
Patrick Kelley contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.