Democrats defend Congresswomen Trump says should “go back” to their “corrupt” countries

President Donald Trump attacked liberal, minority Congresswomen in a nativist tweet thread Sunday telling them to “go back” to the “crime infested countries from which they came.”

Although the president did not tweet at any Congresswomen in particular, he was likely referring to a group of progressive freshmen that includes Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all of whom are US citizens. Omar was born in Somalia and became a naturalized citizen as a teenager. Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx (neighboring Trump’s birthplace in Queens), Tlaib hails from Detroit, and Pressley was born in Chicago.

Omar, Tlaib, and Pressley recently spoke at the progressive Netroots Nation conference, alongside Rep. Deb Haaland. There, they strongly criticized Trump and his policies, and shared their visions for the country.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump wrote, adding he would like the Congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

The tweet prompted swift condemnation from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Trump wrote “would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements.” The speaker chastised progressive caucus members last week for openly criticizing Democratic leadership, but quickly came to their defense in response to Trump’s attack.

“When @realDonaldTrump tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again. Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power,” Pelosi wrote.

Pelosi added that although she rejected the president’s “xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation,” she still hoped to work with him on “humane immigration policy that reflects American values.”

Pelosi was joined by a wide variety of Democratic voices in her condemnation of Trump’s tweet. Assistant House Speaker Rep. Ben Ray Luján, for instance, called Trump’s missive “a racist tweet from a racist president.”

Democratic presidential candidates made their disgust clear as well; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the tweet a revival of classic nativist tropes hurled at people of color in the United States.

“Unfortunately, there’s an American tradition of telling people to go back where they came from,” de Blasio said on CNN. “It’s a very bad tradition that we need to weed out of our nation because we are a nation of immigrants, that’s who we are for hundreds of years.”

Seth Moulton, another Democratic contender and current Congressman from Massachusetts, said Trump’s comments were “white nationalism.”

“The president thinks if you’re not white, you’re not American,” he said.

“Characterizing members of Congress as being from another country is part of the problem,” businessman and candidate Andrew Yang tweeted. “We need to come together and stop putting up false barriers between different groups of people.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote on Twitter, “When I call the president a racist, this is what I’m talking about;” Sen. Elizabeth Warren added, “Let’s be clear about what this vile comment is: A racist and xenophobic attack on Democratic congresswomen. This is their country, regardless of whether or not Trump realizes it.”

A number of Trump’s likely targets responded to him directly.

Tlaib, who has vocally advocated for impeaching Trump, wrote, “Want a response to a lawless and complete failure of a president? He is the crisis. His dangerous ideology is the crisis. He needs to be impeached.”

Ocasio-Cortez issued a multi-tweet response, reminding Trump that she and her colleagues are all from the United States and accusing him of lashing out at she and her colleagues because “you cannot accept that we don’t fear you.”

“Mr. President, the country I ‘come from,’ and the country we all swear to, is the United States,” she wrote. “You can’t accept that we will call your bluff & offer a positive vision for this country. And that’s what makes you seethe.”

Omar echoed her sentiments.

“Mr. President, as members of Congress, the only country we swear an oath to is the United States,” Omar tweeted. “Which is why we are fighting to protect it from the worst, most corrupt and inept president we have ever seen.”

The four progressive House members have become targets for Trump

Omar, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley came into office following the 2018 midterm elections. Their outspoken liberal platforms have drawn conservative criticism from the start, but in addition to attacking policies the Congresswomen promote, such as Medicare-for-all, Trump has gone after them — particularly Omar — along racial and religious lines.

In one instance in April, Trump tweeted an edited video of a speech given by Omar that was intercut with footage of 9/11 in an attempt to link her to the attacks. Omar (like Tlaib) is a practicing Muslim.

In the speech, which was uploaded to YouTube in early April, Omar stressed the importance of organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and praised them for helping to protect Muslims from civil rights violations.

“Far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen, and frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” Omar said. “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” (CAIR was actually founded in 1994.)

As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp explained, Omar’s words “some people did something” were quickly seized upon by members of the right “to paint [Omar] as an anti-American radical indifferent to those killed during the 9/11 attacks,” and the edited video Trump tweeted works to make the case Omar was minimizing the attacks in her speech.

The president’s tweet led to intense attacks against Omar that prompted defenses from Democratic leadership. Adding to their concern was the fact Trump had attacked Omar in a speech about a week before sending the tweet shortly after a threat was made on her life.

The 9/11 tweet reportedly led to further death threats against Omar, and after hearing news of these threats, Trump appeared to back down. But only before doubling down on his racist criticism.

“Look, she’s been very disrespectful to this country,” Trump said in late April. “She’s been very disrespectful, frankly, to Israel. She is somebody that doesn’t really understand life, real life. What it’s all about. It’s unfortunate. She’s got a way about her that’s very, very bad, I think, for our country. I think she’s extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country.”

Trump has used racial and cultural attacks to energize his base. The tactic also helped Trump raise his national profile ahead of his White House run — he was a frequent guest on conservative television ahead of his presidential bid, often discussing the birtherism conspiracy theory, the claim that President Barack Obama was not actually born in the US.

In some of those appearances, Trump would also claim that Obama hid his birth certificate because of what it said about his religion. In 2011, he told Bill O’Reilly: “Maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that.”

As Vox’s Aaron Rupar has written, Trump has continued to use this sort of rhetoric as president:

Trump has a long history of blatant Islamophobia, and Omar — a Somali refugee who recently became the first woman to wear a hijab on the House floor — makes a convenient target for him. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported on Monday that heading into the 2020 campaign, “Trump and his team are trying to make Ms. Omar, who is relatively unknown in national politics, a household name, to be seen as the most prominent voice of the Democratic Party, regardless of her actual position.”

“Mr. Trump has privately said his language about Muslims has been received well among his base,” the Times adds. “His advisers and friends acknowledge that, in effect, he is trying to recreate some of the same conditions of the 2016 campaign.”

Having found success using racist language to excite segments of the voting public before, Trump is unlikely to abandon his attacks on Congresswomen like Omar. And as the 2020 campaign ramps up, he may continue to launch similar broadsides.