Leave the U.S., Trump tells Tlaib, 3 Dem congresswomen of color

Jonathan Lemire and Calvin Woodward
The Associated Press
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., left, joined by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listens during a House Oversight and Reform Committee meeting, on Capitol Hill in Washington Feb. 26.

Washington — President Donald Trump on Sunday assailed a group of Democratic congresswomen of color as foreign-born troublemakers who should go back to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came,” ignoring the fact that the women are American citizens and all but one was born in the U.S.

Trump was almost certainly referring to freshmen representatives known as "the squad": Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and her allies, Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Only Omar from Somalia is foreign-born.

Tlaib, who has frequently sparred with Trump, vowing shortly after taking office in January that “we’re going to ... impeach the (expletive),” fired back Sunday.

"Detroit taught me how to fight for the communities you continue to degrade & attack," she said on Twitter. "Keep talking, you just make me work harder. I'm proud of my Palestinian roots & a WEAK bully like you never wins. This is what America looks like."

Trump’s tweets prompted a wave of searing condemnation from Democrats, including those from Michigan who pushed back on Twitter, and Arab Americans from Metro Detroit who characterized the remarks as unsettling and unseemly.

"It's easy to see where these racist, divisive attitudes are coming from: right from the top," said Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn, a weekly bilingual publication and website. "(Tlaib) has been elected by voters to represent them in Washington. She should be treated with respect."

Trump's tweets prompted congressional Democrats to set aside their rifts to speak as one in calling Trump’s remarks racist and breathtakingly divisive.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president wants to “make America white again.”

Ocasio-Cortez, fighting for days with Pelosi, said Trump “can’t conceive of an America that includes us.”

“Mr. President, the country I come from, & the country we all swear to, is the United States,” she tweeted. “You are angry because you can’t conceive of an America that includes us. You rely on a frightened America for your plunder.” Omar said as if addressing Trump: "You are stoking white nationalism (because) you are angry that people like us are serving in Congress and fighting against your hate-filled agenda.”

Michigan's congressional Democrats defended "the squad," calling Trump's words "hate" and "divisive rhetoric."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn said, "We should call this what it is: hate. We can never forget it’s our diversity that makes us strong. There is no place for this kind of talk in our country." U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Holland said Trump's "willingness to drag our values through the mud is appalling."

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, said  "Divisive rhetoric will NEVER 'Make America Great Again.'"

"America, we are better than this," added Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint.

For her part, Tlaib used the latest missive from Trump as a fundraising tool. In an email, she told supporters that Trump's comments were "un-American."

"Three of us were born here, and Ilhan Omar came here as a child, a refugee who is as American as any of us," she wrote. "We all call this country home, and as someone wrote on Twitter today, we’re all more patriotic than Trump will ever be."

Others from Michigan were offended as well.

Nasser Beydoun, chairman of the Arab American Civil Rights group in Dearborn, supported Tlaib for carrying the "people's voice" to Washington. 

"(Tlaib) comes from Detroit and we support her 100%," Beydoun said. "We have a president who is racist, and what Rashida and others have done is bring the people's voice to Congress, and Trump isn't happy about it and his supporters don't like it. First it was women, then Arab Americans, now people of color."

Hassan Jaber, executive director of ACCESS, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, a Dearborn-based social services agency, described the president's comments as "obviously racist" and "a new low" for Trump.

"The environment of this administration is anti-immigrant, and that is dividing the country, encouraging hate and trying to build policy based on fear," Jaber said. "And that is very unfortunate."

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former candidate for Michigan governor who worked in Tlaib's district, said "The America so many of us, our parents or grandparents or great great grandparents took a bet on is the America where a Rashida, an Iihan, an Alexandria, a Pramila or an Ayanna could lead. I'm proud of that America. And it should trouble us all that the President can't even understand it. He's nothing more than a racist and demagogue history has made a habit of holding up as a warning to our future."

With his latest tweet, Trump again inserted himself into a rift between Pelosi and the liberal congresswomen, after offering an unsolicited defense of the Democratic speaker days earlier. Pelosi has been seeking to minimize Ocasio-Cortez’s influence in recent days, prompting Ocasio-Cortez to accuse Pelosi of trying to marginalize women of color.

“She is not a racist,” Trump said Friday. On Sunday, Trump’s tone changed.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” he said in tweets. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

He added: “These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

He appeared to double down on his comments with tweets later Sunday.

"So sad to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion," Trump tweeted Sunday night.

"Whenever confronted, they call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, 'RACIST.' Their disgusting language and the many terrible things they say about the United States must not be allowed to go unchallenged. If the Democrat Party wants to continue to condone such disgraceful behavior, then we look even more forward to seeing you at the ballot box in 2020!"

The attacks may have been meant to further the divides within the Democrat caucus, strained over internal debates on liberal policies and on whether to proceed with impeachment proceedings against Trump. Instead, Democrats united in denouncing the comments, which evoked the old racist trope of telling a black person to go back to Africa.

“Let’s be clear about what this vile comment is: A racist and xenophobic attack on Democratic congresswomen,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate.

Another 2020 contender, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, tweeted at the president: “This is racist. These congresswomen are every bit as American as you – and represent our values better than you ever will.”

Few Republicans immediately weighed in on the president’s comments, but Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township, a Trump critic who recently took steps to leave the Republican party, called the remarks “racist and disgusting.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel fired back: "...Rashida Tlaib comes from Detroit. and she HAS gone back there, as she lives there now, when she is not serving as a United States Congresswoman in Washington D.C. You may be familiar with it, since you "represent" this city as its President."

Shortly after the tweets, and a later post defending the harsh scenes at a border detention facility where hundreds of migrant men are being held in sweltering, foul-smelling conditions, Trump left the White House to go golfing at his Virginia club.

It was far from the first time that Trump has been accused of holding racist views.

His political career was launched on the backs of falsely claiming that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. In his campaign kickoff in June 2015, he deemed many Mexican immigrants “rapists.” And last year, during a White House meeting on immigration, he wondered why the United States was admitting so many immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and several African nations.

Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in suburban Westchester County. Pressley, the first black woman elected to the House from Massachusetts, was born in Cincinnati.

Omar, the first Somali native elected to Congress and one of its first Muslim women, was born in Somalia but spent much of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp as civil war tore apart her home country. She immigrated to the United States at age 12, teaching herself English by watching American TV and eventually settling with her family in Minneapolis.

Tlaib was born in Detroit.

Rep. Justin Amash of Grand Rapids, a Trump critic who recently took steps to leave his party, called the remarks “racist and disgusting.”

After her remarks after taking office, Trump called her remarks "disgraceful."

In May, Trump accused Tlaib of being anti-Semitic after an interview in which she spoke of her Palestinian ancestors experience as Israel became a refuge for European Jews after the Holocaust.

Few Republicans responded to the president’s comments. Congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did not answer requests for comment, nor did Sen. Tim. Scott of South Carolina, the only Republican black senator.

Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in a previously scheduled appearance on “Face the Nation” on CBS, said only: “You’re going to have to ask the president what he means by those specific tweets.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Mike Martindale contributed.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

A sampling of reaction to Trump’s tweets:

“Mr. President, As Members of Congress, the only country we swear an oath to is the United States. Which is why we are fighting to protect it from the worst, most corrupt and inept president we have ever seen. … You are stoking white nationalism bc you are angry that people like us are serving in Congress and fighting against your hate-filled agenda.” – Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota on Twitter.


“Racial arsonist strikes again. Shut. Your. Reckless. Mouth. Racist attack on four strongly progressive congresswomen of color will not weaken them. IT ONLY MAKES US STRONGER.” – Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, on Twitter.


“You’re going to have to ask the president what he means by those specific tweets.” – Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, when asked about the tweets, on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”


“To tell these American citizens (most of whom were born here) to ‘go back’ to the ‘crime infested places from which they came’ is racist and disgusting.” – Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a Trump critic who announced this month he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent.


“This president is hurting our country and bigotry like he just spewed is something that we need to end in this nation.” – New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Democratic presidential candidate, speaking to reporters in Pelham, New Hampshire.


“Unfortunately there is an American tradition of telling people to go back where they came from. It’s a very bad tradition that we need to weed out of our nation because we are a nation of immigrants, that is who we are by our nature for hundreds of years. But you don’t expect to hear it from the president of the United States.” – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Democratic presidential candidate, on CNN’s “State of the Union.”


“Let’s call the president’s racist attack exactly what it is: un-American.” California Sen. Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential candidate, on Twitter.


“There’s nothing new about denying the belonging of those who call our nation to its highest values and criticize those in power. Those who launch such attacks reveal that they do not understand what is greatest about America.” – Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Democratic presidential