Michigan GOP lawmakers renounce Trump remarks as Dem women strike back

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Four minority female lawmakers, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, struck back Monday at President Donald Trump's tweets saying they should return to their ancestral countries, while three Michigan Republican congressmen renounced his comments.

The criticism came as Trump doubled down on his attacks against "the 'Progressive Democrat Congresswomen,'" and the four congresswomen insisted the Republican president was attempting to distract from deplorable conditions for migrants held in detention at the Southern border. They urged the public not to be fooled. 

It likely won't be the last of the "disgusting, bigoted language" from the Trump, the Detroit Democrat said before imploring House leadership to support impeachment efforts.

"It just makes me want to fight harder," Tlaib told The Detroit News shortly after a Monday press conference at the U.S. Capitol.

"This is a predominantly non-Muslim community that I think knew exactly what they were doing when they elected me," said Tlaib, referring to the 13th Congressional District that includes predominantly African American Detroit. "My district loves that I am unapologetically the way I am.”

Trump asked over the weekend why the four female lawmakers of color didn't "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came" because of their criticisms of certain U.S. policies.

His comments clearly referred to Tlaib, who was born in Detroit, fellow Democratic U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — who were born in the United States — and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who was born in Somalia and is a naturalized citizen. The foursome have been nicknamed "the squad."

Democratic U.S. Reps.  Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts,  Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Detroit address President Trump's tweets in a news conference on Monday, July 15.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, urged Republicans to condemn the president's "xenophobic tweets" by supporting an upcoming Democratic-sponsored resolution that would in part celebrate new immigrants to America. 

On Twitter, Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, also replied to the president: “We must be better than comments like these. I share the political frustrations with some members of the other party, but these comments are beneath leaders."

“We don’t tell people to leave the country just because we disagree with them,” Mitchell told Guy Gordon on WJR-AM Monday. The second-term congressman represents the Thumb area, including Huron, Lapeer, Sanilac and St. Clair counties as well as northern Macomb County and part of Tuscola County.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Michigan's senior Republican member of Congress, said on social media Monday that he was "appalled" by the president's comments, which he called "flat out wrong and uncalled for."

"There's no excuse. Inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the aisle that is used to divide us just isn't right. It's not helpful," Upton said in a tweet. "We have too many challenges facing us ... that we ought to be working on together — immigration, the debt ceiling, the border crisis."

GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland joined in with a Monday posting to his Facebook page, saying he strongly disagreed with Trump.

"Every duly elected official needs to lead by example, end the personal character assassination attacks, and focus on finding ways to work together to make America the very best it can be," wrote Huizenga, who represents parts of West Michigan. "We are better than this — let’s start showing it." 

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden Township

It was unclear how the Republican House members might vote on the Pelosi-announced resolution, which would reference a speech from Republican former President Ronald Reagan that said “each wave of new arrivals” to the country ensure the nation is “forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas.”

“The House cannot allow the president’s characterization of immigrants to our country to stand,” Pelosi said in a statement.

In his tweets that continued overnight and into Monday morning, Trump quoted a Fox News Channel interview with Sen. Lindsey Graham, in which the Republican South Carolina senator called out the “anti-Semitic,” “anti-America” views of Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley.

In a direct jab Monday morning at Tlaib’s calls to “impeach the (expletive)” shortly after she was sworn in this year, Trump’s tweet quoted Graham further: “They talk about the Israeli state like they're a bunch of thugs, not victims of the entire region. They wanted to impeach President Trump on DAY ONE.”

Trump didn't back down from the comments Monday afternoon, noting that "many people agree with me."

"As far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave," Trump told reporters Monday. "That’s what I say all the time. That’s what I said in a tweet that I guess some people think is controversial.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Monday he didn’t find Trump’s tweets racist.

"The president just went on and clarified his comments. I think that he speaks for himself on that. He was very clear,” Mnuchin told reporters at the White House.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., considered seeking the GOP nomination to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

Tlaib, who was born in Detroit and is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, said those who support Trump's comments would make her "fight harder," something she touched on Sunday on social media when responding to Trump's reference to Palestinian roots.

“Yo @realDonaldTrump, I am fighting corruption in OUR country. I do it every day when I hold your admin accountable as a U.S. Congresswoman. Detroit taught me how to fight for the communities you continue to degrade & attack. Keep talking, you’ll be out of the WH soon. #TickTock”

Omar has come under fire for her stances on U.S. policy toward Israel and the Middle East and has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. She denies the comments were anti-Semitic, but they prompted the U.S. House of Representatives to approve a resolution condemning hate speech against all groups.

Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley have supported Omar through the most of the censure. In addition, all four women have criticized the Trump administration sharply for its undocumented immigrant detention centers at the southern border.

The Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate group founded to combat anti-Semitism, also denounced Trump's comments Monday and called on leaders to condemn the sentiments and "using Jews as a shield."

"@realDonaldTrump using Israel to defend his blatant racism only hurts the Jewish community. He doesn't speak for any of us," said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

On Sunday, several Michigan congressional Democrats defended "the squad," calling Trump's words "hate" and "divisive rhetoric." They were joined Monday by Democratic U.S. Sens. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, who labeled Trump's tweets "racist and disgusting."

Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes called the congresswomen "patriots who are fighting for a more perfect union for all Americans."

"Americans do not deserve to have a leader that is a bigot, who promotes policies to destroy immigrants’ lives, devalue women’s voices and discriminate against communities of color," Barnes said in a Monday statement.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and Stabenow and Peters reached out personally Sunday and Monday, Tlaib said. 

"There’s been an increase in phone calls into our office," Tlaib said Monday. "Some are still hateful, but some are extremely, extremely supportive. Some people have even called to apologize on behalf of the president.”

Mitchell, Upton and Huizenga's criticisms joined that of Rep. Justin Amash, the former Republican and newly independent lawmaker from the Grand Rapids area who took Trump to task Sunday on Twitter.

"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," said Amash, who broke with the Republican Party on Independence Day in a Washington Post commentary.

Michigan's House delegation is split among seven Democrats, six Republicans and one independent.


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Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.