President Donald Trump on Thursday attempted to distance himself from a boisterous “send her back” chant aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., that occurred at his campaign rally Wednesday night.
“I was not happy with it — I disagree with it,” Trump told reporters at the White House of the chant, which appeared to be based off of his widely criticized recent tweets attacking the lawmaker and others, adding, “I didn’t say that, they did.” He later told reporters that the chanters “love our country.”
The chant broke out among rally-goers in North Carolina after the president went on an extended rant about Omar and three of her House colleagues — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.
“Omar laughed that Americans speak of al Qaeda in a menacing tone,” Trump said of the congresswoman on Wednesday night. “You don’t say America with this intensity. You say al Qaeda makes you proud. Al Qaeda makes you proud. You don’t speak that way about America,” he added, referring to her remarks in a 2013 interview. Politifact, an independent fact-checking organization, rated his past characterization of Omar’s remarks as “false.”
At this point, the crowd began shouting, “Send her back!” Trump then took a pause from his speech as the chant went on. He later told the crowd, “I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They never have anything good to say. That’s why I say: hey, if they don’t like it, let them leave, let them leave. Let them leave!”
Omar, a Somali refugee, moved to the United States when she was 12 and is a naturalized citizen.
The president caused an uproar in Washington after he tweeted Sunday that the four congresswomen should leave the country instead of criticizing his administration. Trump falsely claimed that the women all “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” and that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Tlaib, a Palestinian American, was born in Michigan; Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Hispanic descent, was born in New York; and Pressley, who is African American, was born in Cincinnati.
Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were quick to denounce the president’s comments as both racist and inaccurate.
The president on Thursday claimed he tried to quiet by crowd by “speaking very quickly” and that he would try to stop chants should they happen again. However, his campaign earlier on Thursday appeared to defend the outcry, telling NBC News that “Americans don’t like it when elected officials consistently disparage this country.”
“The Squad, as they call themselves, are now the leaders of the Democrat Party,” Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s communications director, said. “Americans don’t like it when elected officials consistently disparage this country. All the Democrats are pushing socialist ideas that are terrible for America. They are all the same.”
The chant prompted swift condemnation from many prominent Democrats as well as some Republicans. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a 2020 hopeful, lambasted the president for “stoking the most despicable and disturbing currents in our society.”
“And that very hatred and racism fuels him,” he tweeted.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, also a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted, “These chants don’t happen by accident. They are the product of a president who sees our diversity not as a strength, but as a weakness.”
Omar responded to the rally Wednesday night, saying, “I am where I belong.”
Ocasio-Cortez chimed in Thursday morning, tweeting, “To all those scared for our future: we can get through this better than we started.”
“We have the power to triumph over hatred, division, and bigotry,” she continued. “But decency cannot be taken for granted. It is something we must create, advance, and actively work to build each and every day.”
Even some of Omar’s strongest critics have denounced the chants. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C. and vice chair of the House GOP, said on Twitter that he “struggled with the ‘send her back’ chant tonight referencing Rep. Omar.”
“Her history, words & actions reveal her great disdain for both America & Israel,” Walker, who was in attendance at Trump’s rally, wrote. “That should be our focus and not phrasing that’s painful to our friends in the minority communities.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said he was “disgusted” by the chant, which he called “ugly” and “wrong.”
On Tuesday, the Democratic-controlled House passed a resolution condemning Trump over the racist tweets aimed at the four congresswomen over the weekend. But, just before Trump’s Wednesday night rally, the House rejected an effort to impeach the president over the remarks.
“We condemned the president’s comments the other day,” Pelosi said Thursday when asked about the chant. “That’s our statement.”
A number of other House and Senate Democrats spoke out regarding the chant, with some comparing it to the “lock her up” cries aimed at 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at prior Trump rallies.
“Whether it’s “send her back” or “lock her up,” “there has to be some form of punishment” or “grab her by the p***y”— the throughline is contempt for women and anyone who threatens this president’s fragile ego,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., tweeted. “He should be afraid. We are his worst nightmare. And we will beat him.”