WASHINGTON — Nervous Republicans, from senior members of Congress to his personal daughter Ivanka, urged President Trump on Thursday to repudiate the “send her back” chant directed at a Somali-born congresswoman throughout his speech the evening earlier than at a rally in North Carolina, amid widespread fears that the rally had veered into territory that would damage their occasion in 2020.
In response, Mr. Trump disavowed the conduct of his personal supporters in feedback to reporters on the White House and claimed that he had tried to include it, an assertion clearly contradicted by video of the occasion.
Mr. Trump mentioned he was “not happy” with the mantra directed at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a freshman Democrat who’s Muslim. At the rally Wednesday night, he had been in the midst of denouncing her as an anti-American leftist who has spoken in “vicious, anti-Semitic screeds” when the mantra was taken up by the gang.
Pressed on why he didn’t cease it, Mr. Trump mentioned, “I think I did — I started speaking very quickly.” In truth, as the gang roared “send her back,” Mr. Trump paused and appeared round silently for greater than 10 seconds as the scene unfolded in entrance of him, doing nothing to halt the refrain. “I didn’t say that,” he added. “They did.”
Mr. Trump’s cleanup try mirrored the misgivings of political allies who’ve warned him privately that nonetheless a lot his hard-core supporters within the area may need loved the second, the president was enjoying with political hearth, in response to individuals briefed on the conversations.
Among them had been House Republican leaders, who pleaded with Vice President Mike Pence to distance the occasion from the message embraced by the gang in Greenville, N.C. Mr. Pence conveyed that on to Mr. Trump, in response to individuals acquainted with the change.
“That does not need to be our campaign call, like we did the ‘lock her up’ last time,” mentioned Representative Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina, a prime official within the occasion’s messaging arm, referring to the mantra that routinely broke out every time Mr. Trump talked about Hillary Clinton in the course of the 2016 marketing campaign. Midway by way of that race, Mr. Trump told reporters he did not approve of that chant, but he never intervened.
Mr. Walker, who attended the rally on Wednesday night, later posted on Twitter that he had “struggled” with the chant. “We cannot be defined by this,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s inner circle immediately appreciated the gravity of the rally scene and quickly urged him to repudiate the chant. Ms. Trump, his elder daughter and senior adviser, spoke to the president about it on Thursday morning, the people familiar with the discussions said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Trump’s backpedaling reflects a larger issue for Republicans as they devise a strategy for the election. There is wide agreement in the party that branding Democrats as radicals in favor of open borders and what they dismiss as grandiose proposals like the Green New Deal could be a powerful argument in their attempt to hold the White House and make inroads in Congress.
But while Republicans regard Ms. Omar and her fellow progressives who make up “the squad” — Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — as particularly good embodiments of that radicalism, there is some concern that suggesting they leave the country makes the argument too personal and could backfire.
Mr. Trump’s freewheeling campaign rallies — at which he aims for maximum entertainment value by testing boundaries and breaking taboos, all while his supporters egg him on with cheers and chants — encourage that kind of language. The feedback loop is so familiar by now that Mr. Trump’s staff explicitly warned him before the rally that the crowd would follow his lead as he spoke about Ms. Omar and to be careful not to let things spin out of control.
Even before Wednesday’s rally, his aides and advisers had spent days trying to manage the fallout from the president’s tweets on Sunday calling on the four Democratic congresswomen who he said “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” to “go back” and “help fix” them.
All of them are American citizens, and all but Ms. Omar, a Somali refugee, were born in the United States.
Many of Mr. Trump’s advisers immediately recognized that the tweets had crossed a new line, and they expected him to walk them back at the beginning of the week. But he did the opposite, renewing his call for the women to leave the United States. The charge that his tweets were racist “doesn’t concern me,” the president said, “because many people agree with me.”
Those people included Mr. Trump’s defenders on Fox News, like the prime-time host Tucker Carlson, who has repeatedly denounced Ms. Omar while defending the president against the charge of racism.
After the rally, Mr. Trump made no mention of any concern. “Just returned to the White House from the Great State of North Carolina. What a crowd, and what great people,” he tweeted.
Congressional Republicans, who offered only muted protest over the president’s initial remarks about the congresswomen, recognized that the spectacle in Greenville demanded a more vocal response. Some suggested that the episode, with its intimations of political persecution and even physical force, had violated sacred democratic norms.
“Those chants have no place in our party or our country,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, told reporters.
Even as they denounced the crowd’s chant, Republican leaders declined to criticize Mr. Trump personally.
“There’s no place for that kind of talk,” Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota said to reporters in Washington after being asked about the chant.
Mr. Walker said he had raised the issue with Mr. Pence at a breakfast on Thursday, saying the chant was “something that we want to address early,” before it became a staple of the president’s arena-style rallies. “We felt like this was going to be part of our discussion, to make sure that we are not defined by that.”
Some of Mr. Trump’s Republican allies defended him against charges of racism while justifying his attacks on Ms. Omar.
“I don’t think it’s racist to say,” Lindsey Graham told reporters. “I don’t think a Somali refugee embracing Trump would be asked to go back. If you’re racist, you want everybody to go back because they are black or Muslim. That’s not what this is about. What this is about to me is that these four congresswomen, in their own way, have been incredibly provocative.”
Ms. Omar responded on Thursday by calling Mr. Trump a “fascist,” but said there was nothing new about his behavior or the response of his supporters. She cited his years of false claims that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
Later, in Minneapolis for a town hall-style meeting, Ms. Omar said to the crowd: “A lot of people are trying to distract us now. But I want you all to know that we are not going to let them.”
House Democratic leaders said they were working to develop higher-level security protocols for Ms. Omar and her three colleagues, especially given an onslaught of threatening material on social media, where white nationalists have praised the president’s statements and the hashtag #SendHerBack was trending Thursday on Twitter.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez told reporters on Thursday she was worried for her safety. Ms. Omar did not express such concern, but worried aloud about fellow Muslim immigrants.
“What I am scared for is the safety of people who share my identity,” said Ms. Omar, who has stood out in Congress with colorful head coverings. “When you have a president who clearly thinks someone like me should go back, the message that he is sending is not for me, it is for every single person who shares my identity.”
The latest criticism of Mr. Trump’s language comes two days after the House took the remarkable step of passing a resolution condemning his tweets and asserting that they were “racist comments that legitimized and increased hatred of new Americans and people of color.” Only four Republicans voted yes. All others, including Mr. Emmer and Mr. Walker, voted no.
Hours before the president’s rally, the House killed an attempt to impeach Mr. Trump for the statements. But on Thursday morning, his race- and ethnicity-based insults were cited by Representative Peter Welch of Vermont, the latest Democrat to call for impeachment, as one piece of evidence that his presidency has “wrought an unprecedented and unrelenting assault on the pillars and guardrails of our democracy.”
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