Updated at 2:50 p.m. ET
President Trump, a day after using racist language in a tweet directed at four minority members of Congress, dug in further Monday on Twitter and at a live event at the White House.
“They are free to leave” if they want, Trump said during an impromptu press conference in front of the White House. He also accused the members of Congress of hating America.
Asked if he was concerned that “people saw the tweet as racist, and that white nationalist groups are finding common cause with you on that point,” Trump replied, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”
Earlier in the day, he said the lawmakers should apologize “to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President.”
Trump said “the Radical Left Congresswomen,” should apologize for “the foul language they have used and the terrible things they have said. So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!”
In the initial tweet on Sunday, Trump said the congresswomen — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Rashida Tlaib D-Mich.; and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. — should “go back” to their countries of origin (Omar was born in Somalia, the other three were all born in the United States).
Ocasio-Cortez described Trump’s tweets as “hallmark language of white supremacists.”
Omar, whom Trump called out by name on Monday, tweeted, “They are working to silence the voices of the people who see themselves represented in me. I will stay in the ring, fighting for what is right and will never back down in the face of these attacks.”
In brief comments to reporters at the White House, Trump denied his tweets were racist. “Not at all,” he said.
Democrats have widely criticized the president’s Sunday tweet.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been at odds with the four members of her caucus, came to their defense Sunday. She tweeted that when Trump “tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to ‘make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again.” Pelosi added, “Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.”
At the White House Monday, Trump claimed it was Pelosi’s remarks that were racist.
On Monday, Pelosi announced the House will take up a resolution “condemning the President’s xenophobic tweets,” which she said will be sponsored by Democratic lawmakers who were born overseas.
Republicans stayed mostly quiet about Trump’s tweets on Sunday, but several weighed in on Monday, critical of Trump’s language.
In an interview on Fox & Friends Monday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump should “aim higher. … They are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies.” But Graham also said, “We all know that [Ocasio-Cortez] and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel, they hate our own country.”
Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., tweeted at Trump, “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.”
Another Michigan GOP lawmaker, Rep. Fred Upton, tweeted that he was “appalled by the President’s tweets,” adding “there’s no excuse.” Upton also condemned what he labeled “inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the aisle that is used to divide us.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., also issued a statement condemning the tweets.
“President Trump was wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from. Three of the four were born in America and the citizenship of all four is as valid as mine,” he said. “I couldn’t disagree more with these congresswomen’s views on immigration, socialism, national security, and virtually every policy issue. But they are entitled to their opinions, however misguided they may be. We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry.”
One of the strongest reactions among Republicans came from Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, who is the only African American Republican in the House. Hurd told CNN the president’s tweets were “racist and xenophobic,” and said it was “behavior that’s unbecoming of the leader of the free world. He should be talking about things that unite us, not divide us.”
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, tweeted, “There is no excuse for the president’s spiteful comments-they were absolutely unacceptable and this needs to stop.”
And Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the Senate’s only African American Republican, charged the Democratic Party was “embroiled in racial controversy,” while also condemning the president’s “racially offensive language.”
Trump, who in a separate tweet Sunday claimed 94% support by Republican Party members, seemed to welcome the storm he set off, saying in another tweet that it was “sad” to see Democrats “sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion.”
The Anti-Defamation League however had a different view. In a statement, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said:
“While ADL has publicly disagreed with these congresswomen on some issues, the president is echoing the racist talking points of white nationalists and cynically using the Jewish people and the state of Israel as a shield to double down on his remarks. Politicizing the widespread, bipartisan support for Israel and throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism is damaging to the security of Israel and the Jewish community. He should lead by example, stop politicizing these issues and stop smearing members of Congress.”