U.S. House condemns Trump’s ‘racist’ tweets on lawmakers

Making a point:Minnesota Democratic representative Ilhan Omar speaking with reporters in Washington on Tuesday.AFP  

The House voted on Tuesday to condemn as racist President Donald Trump’s attacks against four congresswomen of colour, but only after the debate over the President’s language devolved into a bitterly partisan brawl.

The measure, the first House rebuke of a President in more than 100 years, passed nearly along party lines, 240-187, after one of the most polarising exchanges on the House floor in recent times. Only four Republicans and the House’s lone independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted with all Democrats to condemn Mr. Trump.

“I know racism when I see it, I know racism when I feel it, and at the highest level of government, there’s no room for racism,” said Rep. John Lewis (Democrat), an icon of the civil rights movement.

Some Republicans were just as adamant in their defence of Mr. Trump: “What has really happened here is that the President and his supporters have been forced to endure months of allegations of racism,” said Rep. Dan Meuser (Republican). “This ridiculous slander does a disservice to our nation.”

Republicans ground the proceedings to a halt shortly before the House was to vote on the non-binding resolution, which calls Mr. Trump’s tweets and verbal volleys “racist comments that have legitimised increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour”.

It was the Democrats’ response to Mr. Trump’s attacks on Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who he said should “go back” to their countries, an insult that he has continued to employ in the days since.

“There’s no excuse for any response to those words but a swift and strong, unified condemnation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as the House debated the resolution. “Every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president’s racist tweets.”

‘Shocking and shameful’

As Republicans rose to protest, Ms. Pelosi turned toward them on the House floor and picked up her speech, her voice rising as she added, “To do anything less would be a shocking rejection of our values and a shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people.”

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, made a formal objection to the remarks, charging that they had violated the rules of decorum, which call for lawmakers to avoid impugning the motives of their colleagues or the president. It was a stunning turn in a debate about Mr. Trump’s own incendiary language.

Mr. Trump on Tuesday denied that his tweets were racist and implored House Republicans to reject the measure. The President raged on Twitter, calling the House resolution a “con game”.

“Those Tweets were NOT Racist,” Mr. Trump wrote. “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game. Republicans should not show ‘weakness’ and fall into their trap.”

Late on Tuesday, the President praised how the Republicans voted, tweeting, “So great to see how unified the Republican Party was on today’s vote concerning statements I made about four Democrat Congresswomen”.

The vote was a show of unity for Democrats who had been squabbling for weeks — and a test of Republican principles. In the end, the only Republicans to cross party lines were Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan, Susan Brooks of Indiana, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Will Hurd of Texas, the House’s only black Republican.

At one point, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (Democrat), who was presiding in the House when Republicans challenged Ms. Pelosi’s words, banged the gavel, rose from the marble dais and stormed off the House floor. “We aren’t ever, ever going to pass up, it seems, an opportunity to escalate, and that’s what this is,” Mr. Cleaver said, his voice rising in frustration. “We want to just fight.”

Defending Trump

For their part, Republicans took to the floor not to defend the President’s remarks but to condemn Democrats for what they called a breach of decorum.

Ultimately, it was left to Rep. Steny Hoyer, the majority leader, to recite the official ruling that Ms. Pelosi had, in fact, violated a House rule against characterising an action as “racist”. The move by Republicans to have her words stricken from the record then failed along party lines, and Ms. Pelosi was unrepentant.

“I stand by my statement,” she said as she strode through the Capitol. “I’m proud of the attention being called to it, because what the president said was completely inappropriate.”Ny Times