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Trump doesn't care who calls him racist; he likes the cards he's playing

President Donald Trump at the White House on

President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

Trump's unwelcome mat

Naked racism? Donald Trump doesn't care who thinks so. "It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me," the president told reporters Monday. (Video excerpt here.)

The most coldblooded of political calculations? The president is portraying his incendiary attack on the congresswomen of color from the Democrats' left flank as something of a genius move as he looks to label his opposition as far-left radicals in 2020. "The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four 'progressives' but now they are forced to embrace them," he tweeted triumphantly.

Trump kept pouring out venom by the bucketful, not only standing by but amplifying his attack on Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, the group of outspoken freshmen known as "the squad."

On Sunday, he tweeted that they should go back to the "totally broken and crime infested" countries "from which they came." (Three are U.S.-born; Omar is a naturalized citizen.) On Monday, Trump said, “These are people that hate our country.” He unleashed a string of false charges about Omar declaring "how great al-Qaida Is."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats were drafting a resolution to condemn Trump's comments and would seek Republican support.

Trump may have taken encouragement from Republican silence in the first 24 hours. But on Monday, they began to speak up. A few were all in with Trump, but others — some rarely critical of the president — said he went too far: that while the four women's views deserve denunciation, it's wrong to say they don't belong in America.

"The squad" held a news conference and vowed to keep up their fight against Trump's agenda. Ocasio-Cortez had a message for "children across this country … that no matter what the president says, this country belongs to you, and it belongs to everyone." (Click here for video.) For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Whose America is it?

Trump's "tweets were wrong, he shouldn’t have made them," Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) told Newsday. "There are legitimate arguments he can make against each of those four members of Congress, but the fact that you are an immigrant or the fact that you are the descendant of immigrants should not be made at all.”

Long Island's other House Republican, Rep. Lee Zeldin, reiterated his criticisms of Omar and Tlaib and raised no concern about Trump's remarks. He did, however, note matter-of-factly: "There is not a single member of Congress who is not lawfully in the U.S. and can be forced to leave." 

The most stinging Republican comments came from elsewhere. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called Trump's tweets "spiteful" and "absolutely unacceptable." Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, asked if she deemed the president's comments racist, said, "Yes I do. They are American citizens." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a close Trump ally, said of the four lawmakers: "This is their country."

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina labeled the tweets "racially offensive" and Rep. Will Hurd of Texas described them as "racist … xenophobic" and "unbecoming of the leader of the free world." Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said "every member of Congress is a committed American." Trump's tweets "were racist and he should apologize," Turner said.

Long Island Democrats Gregory Meeks and Kathleen Rice said flat out that Trump is a "racist" and Tom Suozzi called the remarks "wrong, offensive, and totally unacceptable." For more, see Figueroa's story.

On Trump's side

A strong defense of Trump came from Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who tweeted, "Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals."

A strange one was delivered by Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, who contended Trump wanted the women "to go back to the district they came from," not to leave the country.

Probably no one was more gung-ho than Rep. Ralph Abraham of Louisiana, who said of the congresswomen: "I’ll pay for their tickets out of this country if they just tell me where they’d rather be."

Jews: We're not your excuse

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League have tangled in the past with Omar and Tlaib for comments on Israel and its American Jewish supporters, including some that have been denounced as anti-Semitic tropes. Both organizations condemned Trump's attacks on the congresswomen.

"Surely we can have policy debates in this country without resorting to potshots at our opponents’ identities or origins,” tweeted the AJC. 

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL's national director, wrote: "Whether or not you like their politics, telling people born in the U.S. to 'go back where they came from' is flat-out racist and telling naturalized citizens the same is xenophobic. As Jews, we're familiar with this kind of prejudice. It has no purpose but to divide us & spread hate."

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted at Trump: "I have been pretty polite about this and so have other American Jews. But you really have to leave us out of your racist talking points. You are not helping us, you are not helping society, you are not helping Israel. Your racism is your thing and we are not your shield."

Which way is up?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went golfing with Trump Saturday before the president sent out his tweets, and did his best on "Fox & Friends" Monday to argue Trump had chosen the right enemies.

Graham said the four women "are a bunch of communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own country." But he also suggested gently that Trump should "take on their policies” instead of making personal attacks. "Aim higher," Graham said.

The idea of going "higher" confused Trump. "I disagree with Lindsey. These are congresswomen. What am I supposed to do, just wait for senators?" the president said to reporters at the White House.

Trump raises asylum hurdles

The Trump administration said Monday it will end asylum protections for most Central American migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border by adding a disqualifier that will be almost impossible to get around: If you passed through another country first, you're ineligible.

There are some exceptions, including for victims of human trafficking. The policy, set to take effect Tuesday, is almost certain to face a legal challenge.

Bidencare unveiled

Drawing a contrast with Bernie Sanders and other Democratic rivals pushing "Medicare for All," Joe Biden on Monday offered a health care plan that would keep Obamacare as its foundation.

It would preserve the most popular parts of the Affordable Care Act, from Medicaid expansion to coverage for preexisting conditions, and build on them with a new government-run public insurance option.

Biden would also have Medicare directly negotiate drug prices, allow prescription drug imports and extend tax credits for buying health insurance. He plans to portray his plan as more affordable and politically realistic than Sanders' idea.

What else is happening:

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May and the two men vying to succeed her, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, condemned Trump's attack on the four congresswomen. Johnson called it "totally unacceptable in a modern multiracial country."
  • "The squad" isn't leaving the country, but one of Trump's old buds from "Fox & Friends" did. The Indianapolis Star reports a former co-host, Clayton Morris, has relocated to Portugal while facing more than two dozen lawsuits accusing him of real estate fraud. He has denied the allegations.
  • Trump on Monday asserted that the mass-deportation raids he promised for last weekend were "very successful," despite few signs of large-scale removals, Politico reported. Advocates for Long Island's undocumented say the fear hasn't abated, writes Newsday's Michael O'Keeffe.
  • Two of the New York Democrats running for president are lagging in fundraising as well as the polls. Kirsten Gillibrand got $2.3 million, ranking 12th among the 19 candidates who have filed reports. Bill de Blasio's $1.1 million puts him in 17th place, two notches below author and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson.
  • White House counselor Kellyanne Conway will ignore a congressional subpoena to answer questions about whether she violated the Hatch Act by engaging in partisan politics in her official capacity.
  • A Washington Post op-ed by her husband, George Conway, recalls how his mother, a Filipina immigrant, was once told by an angry woman in a supermarket parking lot to go back to her country. Conway writes that Trump is "a racist president" and his tweets were "racist to the core."

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