WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump distanced himself Thursday from the chants of “Send her back” that erupted at his latest campaign rally, saying he was “not happy with” the chant directed at a Somali-born congresswoman. His response came as leaders in his own party denounced the jeers as ugly and divisive.
"It was quite a chant, and I felt a little bit badly about it," Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about the chant that broke out at a Wednesday night rally in Greenville, North Carolina.
On Wednesday, rallygoers broke into loud shouts of “Send her back” after Trump railed against freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) at the top of a campaign speech that continued his dayslong attacks on Omar and Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
The chant came as the president continued to defend a series of tweets he dispatched Sunday that cast the four American lawmakers as foreigners he tweeted should “go back” to the countries they came from. All but Omar, who was born in Somalia and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 10, were born in the United States.
Democrats have called the president’s tweets racist and xenophobic, but Trump has insisted his missives were “not at all” racist, and were merely a call for the lawmakers — collectively known as “the Squad” — to “leave” the United States if they are unhappy with his administration's policies.
Asked why he did not attempt to stop the chants if he took issue with them, Trump told reporters: “I think I did. I started speaking very quickly.”
At the rally, as the chant broke out, Trump paused to gaze over the crowd for 14 seconds, before continuing his speech.
Omar, speaking to reporters on Thursday, called Trump a “fascist,” and said she was not surprised by the tone of the rally, saying the president had a history of using racially divisive language.
“What I’m going to be busy doing is uplifting people, and making sure they understand, here in this country we are all Americans, we are all welcome, irregardless of what he says.” Omar said.
Republican lawmakers, who earlier this week defended Trump’s tweets directed at Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib, called for Trump supporters not to embrace “Send her back” as a rallying cry to replace the chants of “Lock her up” aimed at Democrat Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.
“That does not need to be our campaign call, like we did the ‘Lock her up’ last time,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) told reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Walker, who attended Wednesday’s rally, said in a tweet that he “struggled” with accepting the chant. He said the focus should be on addressing Omar’s actions and statements directly, not repeating “phrasing that’s painful to our friends in the minority communities.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted Monday that “chants like ‘Send her back’ are ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers.”
“This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union,” Kinzinger said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), told reporters the chant has “no place in our party and no place in this country."
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters at an event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, “there’s no place for that kind of talk.”