The four US congresswomen attacked by US President Donald Trump in tweets widely called racist have dismissed his remarks as a distraction. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib urged the US people “not to take the bait” at a Monday news conference. Mr Trump had suggested the four women – all US citizens – “can leave”.
He has defended his comments and denied allegations of racism. The president did not explicitly name the women in his initial Twitter tirade on Sunday, but the context made a clear link to the four Democrat women, who are known as The Squad.
He sparked a furore after saying the women “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” and they should go home. Three of the women were born in the US and one, Ms Omar, was born in Somalia but came to the US as a child.
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Following the outcry, the four women told reporters they wanted to re-focus attention on to the president’s policies. “This is simply a disruption and a distraction from the callous chaos and corrupt culture of this administration, all the way down,” Ms Pressley said. Both Ms Omar and Ms Tlaib repeated their calls for Mr Trump to be impeached.
What did the congresswomen say?
Ms Pressley dismissed the president’s efforts “to marginalise us and to silence us”. She added: “Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world.” All four women insisted that health care, gun violence and, in particular, detentions of migrants on the US border with Mexico should be in focus. “The eyes of history are watching us,” said Ms Omar said, decrying the “mass deportation raids” and “human rights abuses at the border”.
Ms Omar says Mr Trump’s “blatantly racist attack” on four women of colour was “the agenda of white nationalists”, adding that the president would like “nothing more than to divide our country”. Ms Tlaib called it “simply a continuation of his racist, xenophobic playbook”. “We remain focused on holding him accountable to the laws of this land,” she said.
What is the row about?
On Friday, Ms Ocasio-Cortez, Ms Tlaib and Ms Pressley testified to a House committee about conditions in a migrant detention centre they had visited. Democrats have widely criticised the Trump administration’s approach to border control, saying they are holding migrants in inhumane conditions.
Mr Trump insists the border is facing a crisis and has defended the actions of his border agents. His administration announced a new rule to take effect on 16 July, which denies asylum to anyone who crosses the southern border without having applied for protection in “at least one third country” on their way to the US. After their testimony, Mr Trump said conditions at the centre had had “great reviews”. He then posted his series of tweets about the women and Ms Omar, attacks he redoubled on Monday.
“If you are not happy, if you are complaining all the time, you can leave,” he told a heated news conference outside the White House. As the women spoke to reporters on Monday evening, he tweeted again. “If you are not happy here, you can leave! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America,” he wrote.
How have Democrats and Republicans responded?
Democrats have roundly condemned the president, and have been joined by several Republicans. Senator Tim Scott, the only African American Republican in the Senate, called the president’s words “racially offensive”. Republican Congressman Will Hurd, who is also African American, described the comments as “racist and xenophobic”.
After the news conference US Senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Mr Trump’s remarks “destructive, demeaning, and disunifying”. “People can disagree over politics and policy, but telling American citizens to go back to where they came from is over the line,” he tweeted.
But Republican Congressman Andy Harris had earlier defended Mr Trump, telling WBAL radio: “Clearly it’s not a racist comment. He could have meant go back to the district they came from, the neighbourhood they came from.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a resolution in the House to condemn the “disgusting attacks”, which could reportedly be put to a vote as early as Tuesday. Her colleague Chuck Schumer said he would introduce a similar motion in the Senate. “We’ll see how many Republicans sign on,” he tweeted.
How have world leaders reacted?
The leaders of several US allies have come out against the president. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she “completely and utterly” disagreed with Mr Trump, while Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau similarly denounced the comments.
“That is not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” he said at a press conference. Both candidates for the British premiership condemned the attacks. Jeremy Hunt said he was “utterly appalled” by Mr Trump’s tweets, and Boris Johnson said “you simply cannot use that kind of language about sending people back to where they came from”.
Prime Minister Theresa May had earlier said the remarks were “completely unacceptable”.