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GOP won't turn on Trump, but wishes he would turn down the volume

President Donald Trump on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday. Photo Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

Racism defined by party line

Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy are endorsing Donald Trump's call for four congresswomen of color to leave the country. But they refuse to call it racist and largely side with Trump in what they portrayed as a battle over ideology, not an appeal to bigotry.

“This is about socialism versus freedom," said McCarthy. He also has said that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar "have a right to give their opinion," but he lined up with Trump's drive to portray the freshman "squad" as the new left-looking face of the Democratic Party.

McConnell said Trump wasn't a racist, and he ignored a question on whether he would consider it a racist attack if someone told his Taiwan-born wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, to "go back" to her country because of her stand in a dispute over policy.

But McConnell called on all sides "from the president to the speaker to the freshman members of the House" to attack ideas, not the people who espouse them. “We all know politics is a contact sport, but it’s about time we lowered the temperature all across the board," McConnell said.

As if Trump was going to dial it down. "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, & yet they get a free pass and a big embrace from the Democrat Party," the president said in a third day of tweet storms against them on Tuesday. He insisted that the four "hate our country."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), after feuding with the four women over issues including immigration policy, on Tuesday called them "our sisters" in a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting. She pushed through the House a resolution condemning the president for "racist comments that have legitimized increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

The resolution passed 240-187, supported by all Democrats present, four Republicans and an independent. For more, see Newsday's story by Tom Brune with Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Ancestry-dot-Conway

Maybe Kellyanne Conway didn't mean to be blowing dog whistles during a morning media tour to dispute that racism drove Trump's tweets about the four congresswomen. But howls soon followed.

First, she said on Fox News that the progressive House members represent a "dark underbelly in this country.” Then, questioned outside the White House about which countries Trump wanted the women, all of them American, to go back to, Conway asked reporter Andrew Feinberg, "What's your ethnicity?"

Feinberg, from the website BeltwayBreakfast.com, inquired why that was relevant. Conway went into deflection mode, didn't answer Feinberg's original query and blew up: "A lot of us are sick and tired of this country, of America, coming last to people who swore an oath of office."

Later in the day, Conway went on Twitter to try to clean up her remarks. She said she meant no disrespect to Feinberg and that “ ‘Dark underbelly/element' refers to dangerous beliefs & policy, not race." But what followed raised a question of just how many Americans Trump and Conway think should leave the country: "There are MILLIONS stoking hate against USA/Israel/Military/Vets/People of Faith/LawEnforcement/our flag," she said.

Bones to pick

On Monday, Trump said it didn't bother him that his tweets were labeled racist. “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” he said.

On Tuesday, it seemed to bother him. "Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!" he tweeted.

Ocasio-Cortez shot back: "You're right, Mr. President - you don't have a racist bone in your body. You have a racist mind in your head and a racist heart in your chest."

The House resolution condemning him added an extra knife twist to shame him and Republicans by including a full page of remarks by former President Ronald Reagan, a GOP icon of another era. Just before leaving office, Reagan said in 1989 that if the U.S. shut its doors to newcomers, “our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”

Too much for Mooch

Anthony Scaramucci, who was briefly Trump's White House communications director, denounced Trump's tweets as "racist," "reprehensible" and "obnoxious." Scaramucci recalled how his Italian immigrant grandparents were told to "go back" where they came from.

"Would @realDonaldTrump ever tell a white immigrant — whether 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th+ generation - to ‘go back to your country’?” Scaramucci tweeted on Tuesday. “No. That’s why the comments were racist and unacceptable.”

Of the congresswomen, Scaramucci said, "If they hate America, why are they serving and how did they get elected? I’m pretty sure they love America as much as you or me, but have different ideas on how to make it better. That’s their right, and the country is better off for having diverse people and opinions."

Silver alert

While the cameras were there, Trump's Cabinet meeting featured the now-familiar ritual of officials around the table playing Butter-Up-the-Boss. But a compliment from HUD Secretary Ben Carson sounded a touch left-handed.

Praising Trump for standing up to criticism, Carson said, "Would you rather have a nonpolitician whose speech is unfiltered, who gets a lot of stuff done? Or somebody with a silver tongue who gets nothing done?"

"But I thought I had a silver tongue," Trump responded, drawing laughter. Carson went on to tell Trump, "I think God is using you." The president was pleased.

What else is happening:

  • Joe Biden joked in an MSNBC interview that he would challenge Trump to a push-up contest if the president attacked his age or mental health.
  • Attorney General William Barr made the decision not to bring federal criminal charges against an NYPD cop in the 2014 death of Eric Garner. The Civil Rights Division in Washington wanted to proceed with the case; prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York did not. See Newsday's story by John Riley and Nicole Fuller.
  • Among the grievances Trump tweeted about "the squad" on Tuesday was "filthy language" — a possible reference to when Tlaib said of him: "Impeach the [expletive]." But Trump, too, has an expansive vocabulary of profanity.
  • Urged on by prominent billionaire Silicon Valley supporter Peter Thiel, Trump said his administration will look into his claim that Google is committing "treason" through its work in China.
  • Former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, who was ousted by a Trump-backed primary challenger, says he is considering mounting a Republican primary challenge to the president in 2020. Sanford is better known for the Appalachian Trail than the campaign trail. While governor in 2009, he claimed he was hiking there when he was actually in Argentina carrying on an extramarital affair.

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