Congressional Republicans mostly keep quiet on Trump’s tweets

U.S. President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence looking on, delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump's second State of the Union address was postponed one week due to the partial government shutdown. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans scrambled on Monday to decide how — or whether — to respond to President Trump’s continued tirade against four freshman Democratic congresswomen. 

Some Republicans openly slammed the president’s comments that the congresswomen “go back” to the countries they came from (although three of the four were born in the United States). Some took a cautious tone, gently chiding the president while calling on both sides to tamp down their heated rhetoric. Some vociferously backed Trump. Many remained silent on the issue. 

The political brawl is nowhere near over. Trump doubled down on his inflammatory tweets on Monday, saying at the White House that the four Democratic freshmen —  Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — are “free to leave” the country. He accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of being a racist. 

After remaining largely silent about Trump’s remarks over the weekend, congressional Republicans began weighing in on social media and in press releases Monday. Some were pressed on the president’s comments on Capitol Hill as they returned to Washington from their districts. 

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Trump ally and president of the conservative Freedom Caucus, told reporters Monday that he didn’t want to comment on whether Trump’s remarks were appropriate. 

“I don’t comment on Twitter wars back and forth,” Meadows said. However, he said he thinks Trump’s comments “were not based on any religious preference, on any skin color,” but rather on frustration over “having a crisis at the border and having a whole lot of people weigh in and yet not really putting action to those words.” 

Other Republican lawmakers, like Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia’s 9th District, scolded Trump for his comments while also taking shots at the Democratic lawmakers. 

Virginia’s other Republicans (UPDATE: See interview with U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, below) mostly steered clear of the controversy on social media, as did one Democrat, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, who won a tight race in a competitive district. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd, who sits in a similar swing district, hearkened back to Ronald Reagan.

Other Virginia Democrats didn’t pull any punches.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) called Trump “wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from.” He added, “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.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to comment on Trump’s tweets. 

The four Democratic congresswomen targeted by Trump held a press conference Monday to denounce his comments. Tlaib called his language “a continuation of his racist, xenophobic playbook.” 

Pelosi announced an upcoming floor vote in the U.S. House — backed by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and others — on a resolution to condemn Trump’s language. That measure is certain to put some of Trump’s more moderate GOP allies in a thorny political position. 

Pelosi called Trump’s language “disgraceful” and said in a letter to her colleagues, “our Caucus will continue to forcefully respond to these disgusting attacks.” 

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told reporters outside of a hearing, “We’ve gotten so used to the president making these kinds of vulgar, racist statements, and I don’t use that word lightly. The question is, what’s going to stop him? And I don’t think anything’s going to stop him.” 

Cummings added, “We want a president that brings us together. So Mr. President, I’m not asking you, I’m begging you to stop this, please.” 

UPDATE: In an interview with the Mercury, U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, said Tuesday he would vote against the resolution to condemn Trump’s tweets, referencing an intraparty, racially-tinged spat between Pelosi and the same lawmakers.

“I think when we look at Nancy Pelosi was racist last week, Donald Trump’s racist this week, I think we have to have a better dialogue and I think at this point people have had enough of the name calling back and forth. And I’m sick of the resolutions, I think everybody else is, too,” Riggleman said, adding that he thought Trump’s tweets were about ideology.

“I also think that’s a false notion that when he starts talking about ideology — he was talking about really socialism and Marxism — he wasn’t talking about their color or where they came from or their ethnicity.”

Editor Robert Zullo contributed.