WASHINGTON — A week after President Donald Trump ignited the latest firestorm of his presidency by targeting four freshman congresswomen of color with racially incendiary tweets, his allies sought to tamp down the backlash by taking aim at the lawmakers on the Sunday talk show circuit.
White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," suggested the president should be able to direct criticism at Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan without it being considered a “racial criticism.”
"If you want to have a colorblind society, that means you can criticize immigration policy, you can criticize people's views, you can ask questions about where they're born, and not have it be seen as racial,” Miller told host Chris Wallace.
Trump, in a series of tweets last Sunday, did not criticize the lawmakers on the substance of their policy differences. He instead cast the quartet as foreigners who he said should “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” All but Omar, who was born in Somalia and immigrated to the United States as a refugee at the age of 10, were born in this country.
The president and his allies have since sought to reframe the initial tweets as missives that were directed at the four because of their left-of-center political ideology, but Democrats have countered that the message to “go back” has long been used as a racist trope against minority groups in the United States. Last week, House Democrats passed a resolution denouncing the president’s tweets as racist.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the highest-ranking Republican woman in the U.S. House, appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and repeated Trump’s argument that his tweets were focused strictly on his policy disagreements with the four lawmakers, who support an environmental agenda known as the Green New Deal, and who have called for the elimination of large-scale immigrant detention centers.
“These members of the House of Representatives ... fundamentally believe in policies that are dangerous for this nation,” Cheney said.
Trump for the past week has sought to brand Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib as the face of the Democratic Party, though they represent just four of the 235 seats held by House Democrats.
The president, tweeting from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort on Sunday, continued his dayslong stream of tweets aimed at the group of lawmakers collectively known as “the squad.” He said he did not “believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country. They should apologize to America.”
Ocasio-Cortez responded in a tweet to Trump that drew contrasts between their policy positions, saying Trump works to “Jack up drug prices” and “Hurt immigrant kids.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” likened the president’s tweets and chants of “send her back” that broke out at a Trump campaign rally last week to rhetoric Cummings heard as a child when attempting to desegregate a public pool in his Baltimore neighborhood in the 1960s.
“I heard the same kind of chants, ‘Go home, you don’t belong here,’ ” Cummings told “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos. “I’m not the only — person of color who has had those kind of experiences, and what it does ... when the president does these things, it brings up the same feelings that I had over 50 some years ago and it’s very, very painful. It’s extremely divisive and I just don’t think that this is becoming of the president of the United States of America, the leader of the entire world.”
Asked whether he believed Trump was racist, Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, replied: “I believe he is — yes, no doubt about it.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Trump “is somebody that is using race like a weapon to divide our country against itself.”
“This election is not a referendum only on him, it's really a referendum on who we're going to be,” said Booker, who is part of a crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls.