Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) on Monday sought to defend President Donald Trump after he urged four women of color in Congress ― all of whom are U.S. citizens ― to “go back” to where they came from on Twitter over the weekend.
The tweet, the Republican congressman insisted, was “obviously not racist.”
“Look, ask the president what he meant by it, but clearly it’s not a racist comment. He could have meant go back to the district they came from, to the neighborhood they came from,” Harris told WBAL’s Bryan Nehman.
“They all didn’t come from foreign countries, so you’d have to presume” that Trump didn’t mean they should leave the U.S., Harris said when pressed about the tweet.
Harris is correct about the background of the Democratic congresswomen. Of the four Trump referred to in his tweet on Sunday, only one was born abroad: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. as a refugee when she was a child.
But the congressman’s strained attempt at defending Trump from charges of racism doesn’t pass muster. The president’s tweet series clearly included a reference to “countries” and not congressional districts or places within the U.S.:
Harris was one of the few elected Republican officials who defended Trump’s tweet on Monday. While congressional Democrats declared his rhetoric as racist, xenophobic and bigoted, most GOP lawmakers stayed silent on Sunday.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) offered some early pushback, tweeting that Trump was “wrong” to attack the Democratic congresswomen over their personal backgrounds.
Will Hurd, another Republican congressman from Texas, called Trump’s tweet “racist” and “unbecoming” in an interview with CNN.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) described Trump’s comments as “really uncalled for” and “very disappointing.”
“I would imagine, I would know, that a good number of my Republican colleagues don’t appreciate the comments as well,” the Michigan congressman said in a radio interview.
Trump, however, defended himself during a press conference at the White House on Monday, suggesting that articulating any criticism of one’s country is somehow un-American.
“If you’re not happy in the U.S., if you complain all the time, very simply ― you can leave. You can leave right now,” the president said after an event on U.S. manufacturing billed as “Made in America Day.”
Asked by reporters if he has concerns that he is echoing the language of white supremacists, Trump said, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”
More Republicans weighed in on the controversy Monday, with some, like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), strongly condemning the president’s remarks.
“President Trump was wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from. Three of the four were born in America and the citizenship of all four is as valid as mine,” Toomey said in a statement.
Others, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is facing a tough reelection fight next year, issued a more measured statement even as she called on Trump to delete the tweet in question.
“I disagree strongly with many of the views and comments of some of the far-left members of the House Democratic Caucus ― especially when it comes to their views on socialism, their anti-Semitic rhetoric, and their negative comments about law enforcement ― but the President’s tweet that some Members of Congress should go back to the ‘places from which they came’ was way over the line, and he should take that down,” Collins said.
The story has been updated with Trump’s remarks on Monday and more response from Republican lawmakers.