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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday chided his supporters who chanted “send her back” when he questioned the loyalty of a Somali-born congresswoman, joining widespread criticism of the campaign crowd’s cry and his Republican allies worried about political blowback from the angry scene.
In a week that has corkscrewed daily with hostile exchanges over race and love of country, Trump also claimed he had tried to stop the chant at a reelection event Wednesday night in North Carolina — though video shows otherwise. The crowd’s “send her back” shouts resounded for 13 seconds as Trump made no attempt to interrupt them. He paused in his speech and surveyed the scene, taking in the uproar.
“I started speaking really quickly,” he told reporters Thursday. “I was not happy with it. I disagree with it” and “would certainly try” to stop any similar chant at a future rally.
The taunt’s target — Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — was pressed for a response on Thursday.
“This is what this president and his supporters have turned our country” into, she said as she walked outside the U.S. Capitol. “This is not about me. This is about fighting about what this country truly should be and what it deserves to be.”
“I believe he is fascist,” she said.
The freshman congresswoman, a hijab-wearing Muslim, has fast become a leading face of the resistance to Trump and his politics, winning fans at home and far beyond. A crowd of supporters holding signs that read “Stand with Ilhan” and “Stop racism now” met her Thursday at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as she arrived from Washington. She was due to hold a town hall Thursday night in her Minneapolis district.
Trump started the week’s tumult by tweeting Sunday that Omar and three other freshmen congresswomen could “go back” to their native countries if they were unhappy here. His other targets — all Trump detractors — were Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
All are American citizens, and all but Omar was born in the U.S. She fled to America as a child with her family from violence-wracked Somalia.
The president did not back down from that criticism on Thursday.
They have “a big obligation and the obligation is to love your country,” he said. “There’s such hatred. They have such hatred.”
Citing Trump’s rhetoric, House Democrats said they were discussing arranging security for Omar and the three other congresswomen. The Democratic-led House voted Tuesday to condemn Trump’s tweets as racist. On Wednesday, it rejected a resolution by one Democrat to impeach Trump that was opposed by party leaders as premature.
The chants at the Trump rally brought scathing criticism from GOP lawmakers as well as from Democrats, though the Republicans did not fault Trump himself.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California declared that the chant has “no place in our party and no place in this country.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that it was “ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.”
Even by Trump’s standards, the campaign rally offered an extraordinary tableau for American politics: a president drinking in a crowd’s cries to expel a congresswoman from the country who’s his critic and a woman of color.
It was also the latest demonstration of how Trump’s verbal cannonades are capable of dominating the news. Democrats had hoped the spotlight on Thursday would be on House passage of legislation to boost the minimum wage for the first time in a decade.
To many GOP ears, this time the attention wasn’t all positive.
Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, a conservative who attended Trump’s rally, told reporters at the Capitol that the chant “does not need to be our campaign call like we did ‘Lock her up’ last time.”
That was a reference to a 2016 campaign mantra that Trump continues to encourage aimed at that year’s Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Walker, who called the chant “offensive,” was among about 10 House GOP leaders who had breakfast Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence at Pence’s residence in Washington. Walker said he cautioned Pence that attention to the chant could distract voters next year from the economy and other themes Republicans want to emphasize.
“We don’t need to take it that far where we change the narrative of the story,” he said he told Pence.
The lawmakers attending agreed that the chant was inappropriate and could prove a harmful distraction, and Pence concurred and said he’d discuss it with Trump, said another participant who described the conversation on condition of anonymity.
In North Carolina, Trump berated each of the four congresswomen and said: “They never have anything good to say. That’s why I say, ‘Hey if you don’t like it, let ’em leave, let ’em leave.'” He added, “I think in some cases they hate our country.”
His criticism of Omar included a false accusation that she has voiced pride in al-Qaida.
Among the Democrats criticizing Trump and his rally, 2020 presidential contender Joe Biden said Trump was exploiting race relations to excite his base and should have quieted the crowd.
“Let me hear you say ‘I condemn them,'” the former vice president said of Trump following a campaign event in Los Angeles.
Underscoring the rocky period, House chaplain Pat Conroy’s opening prayer Thursday began, “This has been a difficult and contentious week in which darker spirits seem to have been at play in the people’s house. In your most holy name, I now cast out the spirit of darkness from this chamber.”