Sen. Thom Tillis, whose re-election bid has been endorsed by President Donald Trump, deflected reporters’ questions Monday about a series of racist Trump tweets aimed at four Democratic congresswomen of color.
Tillis, who said he hadn’t read the tweets but only read reports about them, said he was not focused on the “communications of other people.”
“The reality is I want to shift back onto the issues and the America that they represent versus the America that I want to see,” Tillis, a Republican, told reporters at the Capitol. “So I’m focused more on the issues and less on the communications of other people.”
Trump took aim at Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan in tweets Sunday morning, though not by name. The women are outspoken, liberal, freshmen members of the Democratic majority elected in November.
Rep. Mark Walker, a member of Republican leadership in the U.S. House, offered mild criticism, wrapped in a compliment.
“We defeat socialism by highlighting its inequalities and failures, not the lineage of those who promote its failed policies,” Walker said in a statement. “In serving our minority communities, President Trump’s work is unparalleled. He should allow his actions to speak louder than his tweets.”
Trump on Sunday morning set off a firestorm — one that had not cooled down as of Monday evening — in the nation’s capital with a series of tweets taking on the congresswomen.
“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 said.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Omar came to the United States as a child as a Somali refugee. She is now a naturalized citizen. The other congresswomen were born in the United States. All are women of color.
Democrats seized on the comments, calling them un-American.
“Just when you think he can’t go any lower, he does it. What is he saying? He seems to be saying these aren’t really full-fledged Americans. He’s saying they came from somewhere else or they need to go back to where they came from,” said Rep. David Price, of Chapel Hill, in a telephone interview. “It is racist and it’s demeaning.”
Said Charlotte Rep. Alma Adams, who is black, in a statement: “It’s been more than 24 hours since the President’s hateful, un-American tweets, and there has been no apology. Instead, the President has doubled down on his dangerous rhetoric, proving that he is a racist who is unfit to serve.”
In comments on Monday, Trump doubled down. He said the comments were not racist.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump said. “And all I’m saying — they want to leave, they can leave.”
The four congresswomen held a news conference at the Capitol on Monday night. “This is the agenda of white nationalists,” Omar said.
Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called it “deplorable, disturbing, divisive and dangerous.”
Butterfield, of Wilson, said Trump’s “continuous racist and hateful rhetoric is wrong and only weakens us as a nation. America’s diversity is our strength and should be celebrated.”
No other members of the congressional delegation responded to a News & Observer reporter’s emailed questions about Trump’s comments. Republican Rep. Mark Meadows’ office declined comment. The offices of Sen. Richard Burr and Reps. George Holding, Virginia Foxx, David Rouzer, Richard Hudson, Patrick McHenry and Ted Budd — all Republicans — didn’t reply.
Dan Bishop, the Republican nominee in a special election North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, criticized the congresswomen and said he stood with Trump.
“AOC (Ocasio-Cortez) compared our border enforcement to concentration camps, and Ilhan Omar giggled about Al Qaeda and trivialized 9/11, so when the President calls them out and defends America, I’m with him 100%,” Bishop said in a statement.
Dan McCready, Bishop’s Democratic opponent in the Sept. 10 general election in the 9th district, said the nation’s leaders should not be dividing citizens.
“It’s disgusting that our leaders are using race to promote hate. That’s not how we do things in America. In the Marines, we never cared about where you came from or the color of your skin. We were all Americans first,” McCready said in a statement. “Together we must stand up against racism and intolerance whenever we see it and from all sources.”
The campaigns of the Democratic and Republican nominees in a special election in the 3rd district, Allen Thomas and Greg Murphy, didn’t reply to emailed questions about the comments.