South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham called four minority congresswomen “communists” and “anti-America” as he responded to President Donald Trump’s racist tweets about the group this weekend in an appearance on Fox & Friends on Monday.
“We all know that [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and this crowd are a bunch of communists,” Graham said. “They hate Israel, they hate our own country, they’re calling the guards along our border—the Border Patrol agents—concentration camp guards, they accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins, they’re anti-Semitic, they’re anti-America.”
The president loved Graham’s rant, quoting from it directly in a four-part Twitter thread. “Need I say more?” Trump concluded. He may have missed that Graham’s underlying intent in the praise-filled speech was to urge the president not to be directly racist when criticizing the four congresswomen.
Over the weekend, Trump had fired off a series of tweets urging the women to “go back” to where they came from. He didn’t mention any of them by name—instead addressing the “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen”—but he was undoubtedly talking about Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Three of the four representatives were born in America; Omar, who was born in Somalia, is an American citizen.)
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
While the Fox & Friends hosts and Graham didn’t reference the tweets directly, the public condemnation of the president’s racism was the clear context for their conversation. When asked what Trump needed to do to secure re-election, Graham advised Trump to “knock it down a notch.”
Asked to explain what he meant, Graham went on “Don’t get down—aim higher, we don’t need to know anything about them personally. Talk about their policies.” He went on:
I think they’re American citizens who are duly elected that are running on an agenda that is disgusting. That the American people will reject. Talk about what it means for America to have free healthcare for illegal immigrants. And no criminalization for coming into the country. See how that works for controlling immigration. Their ideas—they’re anti-Semitic, they talk about Israeli state like they’re a bunch of thugs, not victims of the entire region. They wanted to impeach Trump on day one. They’re socialist, they’re anti-Semitic, they stand for all the things most Americans disagree with. Make them the face of the future of the Democratic party. You will destroy the Democratic party.
But Graham, not one to challenge Trump too strongly, backed down when asked directly if he thought “the president went too far with these tweets.”
Graham concluded his rant against the women by gushing about what he saw as Trump’s more pro-American accomplishments:
I talked to him a while ago, I said, you’re a good commander in chief. ISIS has been destroyed, our economy is humming, you’re trying to get control of a broken immigration system, their policies will destroy this country. Focus on what they want to do for America and to America and compare it to what you’ve done. Don’t get personal, don’t take the bait. This is not about a person, it is about a country, it is about a set of ideas. They’re on the wrong side of the future.
Over the weekend, Graham also made news from a different Fox appearance when he said he didn’t care if the U.S. kept migrants in an overcrowded and unsanitary facility “for 400 days.” Graham had toured detention facilities in Texas with Vice President Mike Pence, and he vowed on Fox News on Sunday that “we’re not going to let those men go that I saw.”
As for the original offending tweets, Trump gave no apologies. Instead, he said on Twitter on Monday that the four minority congresswomen should apologize “to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President.” He added: “So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!”
Speaking to reporters Monday, Trump referenced Graham’s appearance on Fox, denied that his tweets were racist, and asserted, “If somebody has a problem with our country, if someone doesn’t want to be in our country, they should leave.” He added: “These are people that in my opinion hate our country.”