Four Democratic congresswomen targeted in a series of racist attacks by Donald Trump have urged Americans “not to take the bait”, saying the president would “love nothing more than to divide the country”.
In an impassioned appearance on Capitol Hill just hours after the president had used a White House press conference to double down on his attacks, the four Democrats – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – claimed Mr Trump remarks were a distraction from more important issues. All four are women of colour.
“He does not embody the grace, the empathy, the compassion, the integrity that that office requires and that the American people deserve,” said Ms Pressley, who was elected to congress last year from Massachusetts.
“That being said, I encourage the American people and all of us in this room and beyond to not take the bait. This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern, and consequence to the American people.”
Ms Omar, who was falsely accused by Mr Trump of being both antisemitic and a supporter of al-Qaeda, said the president had adopted the agenda of white nationalists.
“Whether it is happening in chat rooms, or national TV, and now it has reached the White House garden. He would love nothing more than to divide our country based on race, religion, gender, orientation, or immigration status,” she said. ‘It is time for us to stop allowing this president to make a mockery out of our constitution. It is time for us to impeach this president.”
The four women spoke out after the president had president doubled down on a series of attacks on the four women of colour – three of whom were born in the US and one who moved here 20 year as a refugee form Somalia – whom he had previously told to “go back home”.
“As far as I’m concerned if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave,” Mr Trump said at an event intended to celebrate US manufacturing, denying that a series of tweets he had posted over the weekend and on Monday morning had been racist.
Mr Trump was asked by a member of the media if it concerned him that many people considered his tweets as raves and that “white nationalist groups are finding common cause with you”.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” he replied. “All I’m saying, they want to leave, they can leave. Now, it doesn’t say leave forever. It says leave if you want.”
In what appeared to be a deliberate political strategy intended to rally his base as he campaigns for re-election, Mr Trump has started targeting the four congresswomen, dubbed by the media “The Squad” and known for being outspoken on progressive issues. The four have recently clashed with Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, over their criticism of other members of the party.
Only a handful of Republicans have condemned Mr Trump’s language, with most being noticeable in their silence. Senator Lindsey Graham attacked the women as “socialist” and “antisemitic”, though he also called on the president not to make such personal attacks.
In his White House press conference, Mr Trump also echoed earlier false claims that Ms Omar is an Al Qaeda sympathiser. He criticised her for “being from Somalia”, adding that she “hates Jews” and “loves Al Qaeda”.
As the four women held their press conference, Mr Trump continued to tweet attacks at them.
On Monday, Democrats in congress moved to formally censure Mr Trump’s attacks on the four congresswomen.
“The House cannot allow the president’s characterisation of immigrants to our country to stand,” said House speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Our Republican colleagues must join us in condemning the president’s xenophobic tweets.”
Mr Trump also defended the use of mass raids aimed at rounding up immigrants as “very successful”. With few details of the raids made public so far, the statement is difficult to verify. Immigrants and campaigners had been braced for a large number of arrests, but there have only been reports of low-profile operations in a few cities over the weekend.
“The ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids were very successful,” Mr Trump said. “People came into our country illegally ... Many were felons. Many were convicted of crimes. “Many, many were taken out on Sunday – you just didn’t know about it. It was a very successful day but you didn’t see a lot of it. Every person taken out had papers and we had court orders.”
He offered no evidence to back up his claim.In terms of actual raids, New York mayor Bill de Blasio said there were three ICE operations in his city on Saturday. There were also unconfirmed reports of ICE action in Denver and Miami.
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