WASHINGTON — After two days of racially charged attacks by President Trump urging them to leave the country, four Democratic congresswomen of color on Monday defiantly declared they would not back down.
The lawmakers who proudly call themselves “the Squad” – Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib — proclaimed their devotion to the United States and urged Americans not to let Trump use the controversy to distract from what they called his “hateful” policies.
“We ran on a mandate to advocate for, to represent those ignored, left out, and left behind. Our squad is big,” Pressley, who represents Boston, said at a news conference at the Capitol building. “And given the size of this squad and this great nation, we can not, we will not be silenced.
“This is a distraction and we should not take the bait,” Pressley said.
But Trump spent a second day attacking the four lawmakers, using incendiary rhetoric that he believes is welcomed by his voters leading up to the 2020 election.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,’’ Trump said at the White House. ‘‘A lot of people love it, by the way.’’
In particular, he focused on Omar, claiming she had ‘‘hatred’’ for Israel and falsely accused her of proclaiming “love” for Al Qaeda.
Of the four lawmakers, Trump said, ‘‘These are people that, in my opinion, hate our country.’’
But even some Republicans, including Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and former governor Mitt Romney, now a senator from Utah, condemned Trump’s comments. The dispute reignited charges that Trump is a racist as he continues to appeal to his base of supporters with an aggressive crackdown on migrants attempting to enter the United States and undocumented people already here.
“This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms or it is happening on national TV. And now it has reached the White House garden,” said Omar, a Muslim representing Minnesota.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter Monday to fellow House Democrats saying she would introduce a resolution condemning Trump’s comments.
Trump triggered this controversy on Sunday, when he jumped into an internal Democratic Party dispute involving Pelosi and the four lawmakers over their decision to vote against a bill to address the humanitarian crisis at the border.
Clearly referring to the four freshmen, Trump tweeted that they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.”
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done,” he tweeted. “These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”
Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, and Tlaib all were born in the United States. Omar emigrated from Somalia as a child and is a US citizen. Democrats immediately condemned Trump’s comments, saying they played on a longstanding racist trope in which blacks and other minorities are told to “go back to your country.”
Pelosi tweeted on Sunday that Trump’s statement “reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again.”
The four congresswomen also said they were not shocked by the remarks of a president who they charged has fanned the flames of racism in the country since the earliest days of his campaign.
Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, said the four “are focused on making [this country] better because we don’t leave the things that we love . . . we propose the solutions to fix it.”
Trump is incapable of arguing about the intricacies of policies that could improve the country so opts instead for personal attacks, she said.
‘‘I want to tell children across this country . . . that no matter what the president says, this country belongs to you, and it belongs to everyone,’’ she said.
Omar said telling people who are brown or black to go back to their country is nothing new.
“Every single Muslim that has lived in this country and across the world has heard that comment,” she said.
She called this a pivotal moment in the nation’s history, saying Trump’s tweets are an attempt to pit the country against itself to distract from his “detrimental” policies.
Trump continued to provoke, calling on Twitter Monday for “the Radical Left Congresswomen (to) apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said.”
And during an appearance at a White House event for “Made in America” manufacturing, Trump accused Pelosi of making “a very racist statement” about him when she chided his “Make America Great Again’’ campaign.
“As far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave,” Trump said.
Moments before the news conference, the president again attacked the four congresswomen.
“We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country,” he tweeted, repeating that they could leave the United States if they want.
Democrats rallied around the four congresswomen, which Trump indicated in a tweet later Monday might have been his goal.
“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four “progressives,” but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!” Trump wrote.
Top Republicans party leaders in Congress remained silent,while a handful of GOP lawmakers spoke out against Trump’s comments.
“I disagree strongly with many of the views and comments of some of the far-left members of the House Democratic Caucus . . . 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,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
The only two black Republicans in Congress — South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Texas Representative Will Hurd — also criticized Trump. Scott said the president used “racially offensive language.”
“No matter our political disagreements, aiming for the lowest common denominator will only divide our nation further,” Scott said in a written statement.
Baker also denounced Trump.
“I thought the president’s tweets were shameful. They were racist,” Baker said at an unrelated event Monday, according to his office. “They bring a tremendous amount of . . . disgrace to public policy and public life and I condemn them all.”
Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, defended Trump, noting that “he has an Asian woman of color in his Cabinet,” a reference to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
“I don’t think the president’s intent in any way is racist,” Short told reporters Monday, saying Trump was only referring to Omar, who is an immigrant, when he tweeted about lawmakers going back to the countries that they came from.Krantz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.