US Representative Ilhan Omar on Thursday branded US President Donald Trump a “fascist” as Trump sought to distance himself from mocking chants of “send her back” directed at the Somalia-born lawmaker by his supporters.
“We have said this president is racist, we have condemned his racist remarks,” said Omar, one of two Muslim women in the US Congress. “I believe he is fascist.”
Chants of “send her back” broke out at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rally in Greenville, North Carolina, on Wednesday night when he attacked Omar and three other ethnic-minority female Democratics known as the “Squad.”
Omar on Thursday received a very different reception when she returned home to Minnesota and was greeted by crowds of supporters at the airport.
The president’s “nightmare is seeing a Somali immigrant refugee rise to Congress,” she said through a megaphone, to shouts of support. “We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president, because his policies are a nightmare to us.”
Trump on Thursday said to reporters in the Oval Office that there was “great energy” at his earlier rally, but he was not pleased by the taunts.
“I was not happy when I heard that chant,” he said. “I didn’t like that they did it and I started speaking quickly.”
However, television footage showed that Trump let the chant continue for more than 10 seconds before he resumed speaking.
In a rare move, the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives on Tuesday rebuked Trump for “racist comments” after he said the four should “go back” to their nations of origin if they are not happy in the US, but he made it clear at the rally that without a Democratic presidential candidate to focus on yet, he plans to make inflammatory attacks on Omar and her three fellow left-leaning Democrats a centerpiece of his re-election strategy.
The first-term lawmakers — all but one of whom, Omar, were born in the US — are of Hispanic, Arabic, Somalian and African-American descent.
To the delight of his thousands of supporters in Greenville, Trump described Omar and the other three as “left-wing ideologues [who] see our nation as a force of evil.”
“A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American Dream — frankly the destruction of our country,” Trump said.
The crowd responded to his attacks with cries of “send her back,” reminiscent of the “lock her up” chants directed in 2016 at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Some Republicans have urged Trump to tone down the rhetoric, but the president clearly believes — despite the risk of inflaming racial tensions and widening the partisan divide — that he has latched on to a winning strategy.
Trump tapped into grievances among white blue-collar and rural Americans to eke out a narrow victory in 2016 and he is hoping to do the same again next year.
“He’s rallying his base,” said Wendy Schiller, a professor of political science at Brown University. “He thinks this is a way to get them riled up now.”
Trump won 57 percent of white voters in 2016, while Clinton won 37 percent.
About 70 percent of the electorate next year is expected to be white. African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities account for the rest and tend to vote Democrat.
Several of the Democratic presidential hopefuls condemned Trump’s remarks.
“It’s vile. It’s cowardly. It’s xenophobic. It’s racist,” US Senator Kamala Harris said.
“These members of Congress — children of immigrants, just like so many of us — are an example of exactly what makes America great,” former US vice president Joe Biden said.
Trump’s remarks also came in for criticism from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called them “hurtful,” and European Council President Donald Tusk, who said the comments were “totally unacceptable.”
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