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Trump Defends Racist Tweets Aimed At Freshman Lawmakers, Reiterates Attack


President Trump is doubling down on racist language he used to attack four Democratic congresswomen, comments that have been widely condemned by Democrats and by some Republicans. Trump tweeted this weekend that the four lawmakers, who are all women of color and who are all U.S. citizens, that they should, quote, "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came."

Now, today the president pushed on, saying...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And all I'm saying that if they're not happy here, they can leave.

KELLY: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe joins me now from the White House. And, Ayesha, a little bit more detail if you would on what exactly the president had to say today.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Well, he defended his tweets. And he even went further in some ways, basically arguing that he believes these women do not love their country. And he continued to say that they should get out of the country, that they should leave. Trump was asked specifically about white nationalists finding common cause with him on these statements. And this is what he said.


TRUMP: It doesn't concern me because many people agree with me. And all I'm saying - they want to leave, they can leave. Now, it doesn't say leave forever.

RASCOE: Just to be clear, none of these lawmakers who Trump is talking about are saying that they want to leave this country or that they do not love this country. In fact, they're saying the opposite. They have opposed Trump on many of his policies. But Trump, as a private citizen, opposed former President Obama and his administration's actions. And Trump ran on the idea that America was having all these problems and that he was going to make it great again. Trump has been very critical of the U.S.

KELLY: Right. He is criticizing people for doings things that he himself has done. I mean, it feels important, Ayesha, to set all of this current controversy in a broader context, which is that Trump's language on race has been racist before. From the day he announced his campaign four years ago, there's a pattern. There's a throughline.

RASCOE: It's a part of a long pattern. When he announced that he was running for president, he talked about some Mexicans, calling them rapists. He said, even before he became president, during the campaign, he talked about a Mexican judge and said he couldn't fairly decide his case. And, of course, he made a name for himself before he became president by questioning former President Obama whether he was born in the United States. And his language about black lawmakers and black public figures has also raised questions about the way that he's insulted them and their intelligence.

KELLY: So we heard from these four lawmakers earlier today. They held an afternoon press conference on Capitol Hill. Here's a little bit of what Congresswoman Ilhan Omar had to say.


ILHAN OMAR: Every single statement that we make is from a place of extreme love for every single person in this country. It is part of the mandate of why we ran for office and why we got elected.

KELLY: And as I mentioned, Ayesha, Democrats have been very quick to condemn the president's comments here. What about Republicans?

RASCOE: So Republicans were mostly quiet yesterday, but you do have a number of Republicans at this point speaking up. You had Republican Lindsey Graham, who said the president should aim higher. I guess aim higher with his critiques. But he then also called these Democrats communists, so that was Lindsey Graham. And then you had Michigan lawmaker Fred Upton. He tweeted that he was appalled by the president's tweets and said that there's no excuse for this. So the question is, what happens next? - and whether any of these Republicans who are complaining about Trump's comments - whether they'll take any more action beyond saying that they disapprove of what Trump has said.

KELLY: Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.