As President Trump launched a fresh Twitter attack Sunday on four minority congresswomen he said were “not capable of loving our Country,” a senior Democratic congressman who was active in the civil rights movement half a century ago offered a searing rebuke of the president, saying he now has “no doubt” Trump is a racist.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who chairs the House Oversight Committee, said Trump’s repeated excoriation of the four freshman Democrats — and his praise of the patriotism of rally-goers who chanted “Send her back!” about one of them who is foreign-born — had left him unable to avoid a reluctant conclusion.
“I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Cummings said of Trump on ABC’s “This Week.” However, asked point-blank if he believes the president is a racist, the congressman replied: “Yes. No doubt about it.”
Over the past week, despite the qualms of some aides, Trump has doubled and tripled down on his condemnation July 14 of the members of Congress known as “the Squad,” all of whom are women of color. A furor erupted following that series of tweets in which the president said the four should “go back” to their countries of origin, although all are American citizens and all but one are native-born. The House of Representatives officially condemned the tweets as racist.
Early Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that the four needed to apologize for past remarks, and again accused them of lacking patriotism.
“I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country,” he wrote of Democrats Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
“They should apologize to America (and Israel) for the horrible (hateful) things they have said,” he added. “They are destroying the Democrat Party, but are weak & insecure people who can never destroy our great Nation!”
A Trump campaign official, Mercedes Schlapp, said Trump had disavowed the “Send her back!” chant that erupted at a campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., after the president verbally attacked Omar, who was born in Somalia and naturalized two decades ago. Video of the rally shows the president listening to the chant for 12 to 13 seconds, letting it die down before resuming his speech.
Trump told reporters on Thursday that he “didn’t like” the chant and tried to stop it, but by Friday he was praising the Greenville rally-goers as “incredible patriots.” On Saturday, he retweeted far-right British commentator Katie Hopkins praising the chant as an updated version of “Lock her up,” an anti-Hillary Clinton rallying cry that persisted long into Trump’s presidency.
“Well done,” tweeted Hopkins, who in the past has called Islam “disgusting” and appeared to blame a rabbi’s migrant advocacy for last year’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Schlapp, a former White House aide who now works on Trump’s 2020 campaign, sought to parse the president’s shifting stance, saying on ABC that while Trump had “made it very clear he disagreed with the chant,” he also “stands with those people in North Carolina, across the country, who support him…because they love America.”
“What I’m unhappy about are the chants of the squad,” said Schlapp, castigating the four congresswomen for “fundamentally criticizing the United States.”
Three of the four congresswomen — all but Omar — sit on Cummings’ committee, and he said in his ABC interview that he sometimes wished they used different wording in voicing policy critiques. Omar has been sharply criticized for equating support for Israel with allegiance to a foreign power, among other remarks.
But Cummings said that, far from being unpatriotic, the views of the four, whom he praised as hardworking “women who love their country,” reflected a desire to make government more accountable.
“When you disagree with the president, suddenly you’re a bad person,” Cummings said. “Our allegiance is not to the president; our allegiance is to the Constitution of the United States of America, and the American people.”
Cummings, who is 68, said the “send her back” chants, coupled with Trump’s original “go back” tweets attacking the minority congresswomen, revived painful personal memories of a 1962 racial confrontation in Baltimore, when he was 12 years old.
“We were trying to integrate an Olympic-size pool near my house, and we had been constrained to a wading pool in the black community,” he recounted. When residents tried for six days to march toward the larger pool, “I was beaten, all kinds of rocks and bottles thrown at me. And the interesting thing is that I heard the same chants: ‘Go home, you don’t belong here.’”
Cummings would go on to become a lifelong advocate of racial equality.
Senior White House aide Stephen Miller, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” was also pressed by host Chris Wallace about the chants and Trump’s past statements, including his tweets July 14. Miller said he did not believe that “if you criticize someone and they happen to be a different color skin, that makes it a racial criticism.” He reiterated that Trump disagreed with the chant.
Most elected Republicans have offered little public pushback over the earlier tweets or the rally chants. GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming said it was “inappropriate” to demand Omar’s expulsion, but said “the news media really wants to make this about race.”
“These members of the House of Representatives -- it’s not just these four -- fundamentally believe in policies that are dangerous for this nation,” Cheney said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”