Donald Trump has disavowed chants of “send her back” about Ilhan Omar, the Somali-born Democratic congresswoman, which broke out at one of his rallies after he attacked her repeatedly on stage.
The US president said he was “not happy” with the shouts from supporters and claimed that he had moved “very quickly” to start speaking again once they broke out.
However, video footage showed Mr Trump initially stepped away from the microphone and waited 13 seconds as the chants rung out at the North Carolina event before speaking again.
He also did not proactively distance himself from the chants, either on Twitter or in any other public form, on Thursday morning despite high profile media coverage of the episode, only speaking when asked by reporters.
The chants towards Ms Omar, who is a US citizen and part of the “squad” of four Democrat congresswomen of colour targeted by Mr Trump throughout this week, received condemnation from leading politicians.
Democrats running for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination spoke out, with senator Kamala Harris calling the chants “cowardly” and “xenophobic” and former vice president Joe Biden saying Ms Omar was an example of “exactly what makes America great”.
A few leading Republicans also went public with criticism, with Kevin McCarthy, the most senior Republican in the House of Representatives, saying: “Those chants have no place in our party or no place in this country, simple as that."
Mr Trump was asked about the episode by reporters in the White House around lunchtime on Thursday, with the chants – made during a rally on Wednesday evening – dominating cable news coverage.
“I wasn’t happy with that message that they gave last night,” Mr Trump said. Pushed on why the shouts rung out – critics blame Mr Trump’s rhetoric – the president said “you would have to ask them”.
“What I would suggest [is] go there, go to North Carolina and you ask the people ‘why did they say that’. But that’s what they said,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Trump’s initial tweet on Sunday implying they should “go back” to the countries they were from has spiraled into a week-long row. All four women are US citizens and only Ms Omar was born overseas.
Mr Trump targeted them again in his rally, saying: “They don’t love our country. I think, in some cases, they hate our country. You know what? If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.”
Ms Omar responded to the chants by tweeting words from the US poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
She also shared a photograph of herself in a seat in the House of Representatives before a US flag, writing: “I am where I belong, at the people’s house and you’re just gonna have to deal [with that]!”
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, was among those who criticised the chants, tweeting during a trip to Canada: "I feel at home in Montreal for many reasons. Also because, I didn’t hear anyone shouting ‘SEND HIM BACK!’”
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