U.S. House condemns Trump’s ‘racist’ tweets in extraordinary rebuke

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the House Chamber, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.   | Photo Credit: AP

In a remarkable political repudiation, the Democratic-led U.S. House voted on Tuesday night to condemn President Donald Trump’s “racist comments” against four Democratic Congresswomen of colour, despite protestations by Mr. Trump’s Republican congressional allies and his own insistence he hasn’t “a racist bone in my body.”

Two days after Mr. Trump tweeted that four Democratic Congresswomen should “go back ” to their home countries — though all are citizens and three were born in the USA — Democrats muscled the resolution through the chamber by 240-187 over the near-solid GOP opposition.

The rebuke was an embarrassing one for Mr. Trump even though it carries no legal repercussions, but the highly partisan roll calls suggests it is unlikely to cost him with his die-hard conservative base.

On Monday, the four — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — struck back at a news conference and urged people not to “take the bait.”

Despite a lobbying effort by Mr. Trump and party leaders for a unified GOP front, four Republicans voted to condemn his remarks: moderate Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Will Hurd of Texas and Susan Brooks of Indiana, who is retiring.

Also backing the measure was Michigan’s independent Rep. Justin Amash, who left the GOP this month after becoming the party’s sole member of Congress to back a Mr. Trump impeachment inquiry.

Before the showdown roll call, Mr. Trump characteristically plunged forward with time-tested insults. He accused his four outspoken critics of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician” and added, “If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!” — echoing taunts long unleashed against political dissidents rather than opposing parties’ lawmakers.

The President was joined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and other top Republicans in trying to redirect the focus from Mr. Trump’s original tweets, which for three days have consumed Washington and drawn widespread condemnation.

Instead, they tried playing offense by accusing the four congresswomen — among the Democrats’ most left-leaning members and ardent Mr. Trump critics — of socialism, an accusation that’s already a central theme of the GOP’s 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.

Even after two-and-a-half years of Mr. Trump’s turbulent governing style, the spectacle of a president futilely labouring to head off a House vote essentially proclaiming him to be a racist was extraordinary.

Underscoring the stakes, Republicans formally objected after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said during a floor speech that Mr. Trump’s tweets were “racist.” Led by Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, Republicans moved to have her words stricken from the record, a rare procedural rebuke.

After a delay exceeding 90 minutes, No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Ms. Pelosi had indeed violated a House rule against characterising an action as racist.

Hoyer was presiding after Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri stormed away from the presiding officer’s chair, lamenting, “We want to just fight,” apparently aimed at Republicans.

Even so, Democrats flexed their muscle and the House voted afterward by party line to leave Ms. Pelosi’s words intact in the record.

Some rank-and-file GOP lawmakers have agreed that Mr. Trump’s words were racist, but on Tuesday party leaders insisted they were not and accused Democrats of using the resulting tumult to score political points.

Among the few voices of restraint, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Mr. Trump wasn’t racist, but he also called on leaders “from the president to the speaker to the freshman members of the House” to attack ideas, not the people who espouse them.

Hours earlier, Mr. Trump tweeted, “Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” He wrote that House Republicans should “not show ‘weakness’” by agreeing to a resolution he labelled “a Democrat con game.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, one of Mr. Trump’s four targets, returned his fire. “You’re right, Mr. President - you don’t have a racist bone in your body. You have a racist mind in your head and a racist heart in your chest,” she tweeted.

The four-page Democratic resolution said the House “strongly condemns President Donald Mr. Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

It said Mr. Trump’s slights “do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.”

All but goading Republicans, the resolution included a full page of remarks by President Ronald Reagan, who is revered by the GOP. Reagan said in 1989 that if the U S shut its doors to newcomers, “our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”

Mr. Trump’s criticism was aimed at four freshman Democrats who have garnered attention since their arrival in January for their outspoken liberal views and thinly veiled distaste for Mr. Trump: Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

All were born in the U S except for Omar, who came to the U S as a child after fleeing Somalia with her family. The four have been in an increasingly personal clash with Ms. Pelosi, too, over how assertively the House should be in trying to restrain Mr. Trump’s ability to curb immigration.

But if anything, Mr. Trump’s tweets may have eased some of that tension, with Ms. Pelosi telling Democrats at a closed-door meeting Tuesday, “We are offended by what he said about our sisters,” according to an aide who described the private meeting on condition of anonymity.

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