Donald Trump has insisted tweets in which he suggested a group of congresswomen of colour should “go back” to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” were not racist, and suggested Republicans who disagreed with him were “weak”.
His remarks have been labelled racist and the four women, all of whom are American citizens and with the exception of Ms Omar were born in the US, have branded Mr Trump “xenophobic” and “bigoted”.
On Tuesday, the US House was preparing to vote on a resolution condemning the tweets, which the measure says “have legitimised and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour”. The vote was held up by a row over efforts by Republicans to strike language by House speaker Nancy Pelosi from the record. That effort failed, but Ms Pelosi was rebuked by an official of the chamber for comments about Mr Trump deemed overly personal and in breach of its rules.
Amid growing anger over the series of aggressive posts, Mr Trump tweeted on Tuesday: “Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game. Republicans should not show ‘weakness’ and fall into their trap.”
He went on to accuse the group of using “filthy language”, before reiterating his unsubstantiated claim that they “hate our country”.
Mr Trump then claimed Ms Omar had a public approval rating of 8 per cent, while Ms Ocasio-Cortez was polling at just 21 per cent.
The president appeared to be referring to Axios research released on Sunday, which found the pair were unpopular among a group of 1,000 white, non-college-educated voters the organisation polled.
A defiant Mr Trump followed his weekend tirade by again calling on Monday for the so-called “squad” of newly-elected congresswomen to get out of the US “right now”.
Speaking at a White House press conference, the president shrugged off the accusation his comments could draw support from white supremacists.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me”, he told reporters: “A lot of people love it, by the way.”
Responding to Mr Trump’s outburst at a news conference held later that day with her three colleagues, Ms Pressley referred to him as “the occupant of our White House”, rather than the president.
“He does not embody the grace, the empathy, the compassion, the integrity that that office requires and that the American people deserve,” she said, encouraging voters to “not take the bait”.
Ms Omar, a naturalised US citizen born in Somalia, accused Mr Trump of “openly violating” the Constitution and sounded the call for impeachment proceedings.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez said the president “does not know how to defend his policies and so what he does is attack us personally”.
Rumbles of discontent have also surfaced within the Mr Trump’s own party, but notably not from Republican congressional leaders.
Mitt Romney, the Republican senator and former presidential candidate, called the remarks “destructive, demeaning, and disunifying”.
But Marc Short, the chief of staff to vice president Mike Pence, said he did not believe the president’s intent was “in any way racist”.
Mr Short pointed to Mr Trump’s decision to appoint Taiwan-born Elaine Chao as his transportation secretary.
Ms Chao, one of the few people from ethnic minority groups in the largely white and male Trump administration, has declined to comment on the president’s attacks on the congresswomen.
Additional reporting by agencies
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