In comments to reporters as he left the White House and announced labour secretary Alexander Acosta was resigning amid controversy over a plea deal brokered for Jeffrey Epstein, the president claimed the congresswomen were among a group of Democrats being “disrespectful” to speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The president inserted himself into a dispute that the two congresswomen, along with two other women of colour, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, are engaged in with Ms Pelosi.
This week, Ms Pelosi, a 79-year liberal from California who is white, told colleagues she was frustrated with people using social media to criticise other members of the party. The comments were interpreted as being directed as Ms Ocasio-Cortez, Ms Omar, Ms Tlaib and Ms Pressley, all of whom have large social media followings among progressives and have been outspoken.
“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK,” Ms Pelosi said. Ms Ocasio-Cortez later told reporters it had got to the point where “it was just outright disrespectful – the explicit singling out of newly elected women of colour”.
On Friday, Mr Trump, who has frequently attacked Ms Pelosi, claimed the progressives were being “disrespectful” to her.
“I think Cortez is being very disrespectful to somebody who’s been there a long time,” said Mr Trump.
“I deal with Nancy Pelosi a lot and we go back and forth and it’s fine, but I think that a group of people is being very disrespectful to her. And you know what, I don’t think that Nancy can let that go on.”
Ms Omar, who with Ms Tlaib became the first Muslim women elected to Congress in the 2018 midterms, came to the US with her family in 1992. She spent her early years in a refugee camp in Kenya, after fleeing violence in Somalia. She currently represents Minnesota’s 5th congressional district.
Mr Trump continued. “A group of people that came from – well, I don’t even know where they came from. I’m looking at this Omar from Minnesota and if one half of what they’re saying about her are is true she shouldn’t even be in office.
“But Cortez should treat Nancy Pelosi with respect. She should not be doing what’s she’d doing. I’ll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi that you know better than I do. She is not a racist. For them to call her a racist is a disgrace.”
On Thursday, Ms Ocasio-Cortez was asked by CNN if she believed the speaker was racist or had any “racial animus”. She replied: “No, no, absolutely not, absolutely not.”
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