In an agitated and at times incoherent response to a reporter’s question about racist tweets posted on Sunday, President Donald Trump reiterated his attacks on four minority congresswomen and suggested Rep. Ilhan Omar supported al-Qaida and “hates Jews.”
While speaking an event outside the White House on Monday, Trump suggested that the progressive congresswomen—Omar, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib—should leave the United States because they “hate our country.” Echoing his weekend tweets, in which he wrote that the congresswomen should “go back” to where they came from, he continued: “You can leave right now. Come back if you want, don’t come back, that’s OK too. But if you’re not happy, you can leave. … All they do is complain.”
Trump did not name any of the four in the weekend tweets, but he attacked Ocasio-Cortez on Monday without mentioning her directly. He placed the blame on Amazon’s decision to withdraw its planned New York City headquarters on the freshman congresswoman from the Bronx. “Tens of thousands of jobs, would have been a great thing,” Trump said. “That was a terrible thing she did.” (Amazon blamed a “number of state and local politicians” for the decision.” Ocasio-Cortez was part of a coalition of progressive leaders and groups that opposed the $3 billion tax break offered to the company and the prospect of gentrification that came with it.)
But Trump’s attacks on Omar were direct and decidedly less business-focused. When asked about his tweets, Trump immediately began ranting about the Muslim congresswoman:
[L]ook at Omar, I don’t know, I never met her. I hear the way she talks about al-Qaida. Al-Qaida has killed many Americans. She said you could hold your chest out. When I think of America, huh. When I think of al-Qaida, I can hold my chest out. When she talked about the World Trade Center being knocked down, some people, you remember the famous, some people.
This first part of his answer appears to reference a 2013 interview with Omar in which she joked about the way a professor said “al-Qaida” and “Hezbollah” in a terrorism class in college. “The thing that was interesting in the class was every time the professor said ‘al-Qaida’ his shoulders went up,” she said. “But you know, it is that you don’t say ‘America’ with an intensity, you don’t say ‘England’ with the intensity. …. But you say these names because you want that word to carry weight.” The second part of Trump’s answer references a 20-minute speech Omar made at a fundraiser in which she talked about the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when “some people did something, and all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” The right, led by Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Trump, seized upon her phrasing as proof she did not care about terror attacks and was essentially un-American. Omar and others have maintained that she was quoted out of context and that the nature of the criticism itself revealed the Islamophobia motivating so many of her critics. Trump, who falsely asserted he saw thousands of people cheering after 9/11, has a history of inflaming Islamophobia by citing the attacks.
After a deviation to talk about all four congresswomen as ungrateful and recommend again that they leave the country, Trump returned to the al-Qaida point twice more:
So when I hear people speaking about how wonderful al-Qaida is, when I hear people talking about ‘some people, some people’ with the World Trade Center, some people. No, not some people. Much more than some people. When I hear the statements that they have made. And in one case you have somebody that comes from Somalia, which is a failed government, a failed state, who left Somalia, who ultimately came here and now is a congresswoman who’s never happy. Says horrible things about Israel. Hates Israel. Hates Jews. Hates Jews. It’s very simple.
This rant manages to associate Omar with the 9/11 attacks; portray her as a non-American for her birthplace (Omar is a U.S. citizen); insult Somalia as a “failed state” in a jab reminiscent of his “shithole countries” remark; suggest Omar, a minority woman, should be more grateful to the U.S.; and conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, with the remarkably direct assertion that she “hates Jews.” It’s a lot.
But Trump went on, this time suggesting directly that Omar thinks al-Qaida is “great”:
[H]ere’s somebody where we’re at war with, al-Qaida, and she’s somebody talking about how great al-Qaida is, pick out her statement, that was Omar, how great al-Qaida is. When you hear that and we are losing great soldiers to al Qaeda. When you see the World Trade Center gets knocked out and the statements made about the World Trade Center, all the death and destruction, I will tell you what, I am not happy with them.
The whole answer is a remarkably long and anger-fueled response to a single question, and it’s worth watching the full video. Here’s Trump on all four of the women:
I’m saying—I’m saying that they’re socialists definitely. As to whether or not they’re communists, I would think they might be. But this isn’t what our country is about. Nevertheless, they’re free to leave if they want. If they want to leave, that’s fine. If they want to stay, that’s fine. But the people have to know. And politicians can’t be afraid to take them on. … And It is very easy for me to say, Oh, gee, it is OK. If weak politicians want to say, and the Democrats in this case, if they want to gear their wagons around these four people, I think they’re going to have a tough election. Because I don’t think the people of the United States will stand for it.
After this rant, Trump took another question about whether he was concerned that the tweet was seen as racist—that even Sen. Lindsey Graham gently encouraged him to “aim higher.” He becomes less coherent as he grows angrier:
No, no, he didn’t say—he just said don’t go—see, I disagree with Lindsey. These are congressmen. What am I supposed to do, just wait for senators? No. So I disagree with Lindsay on that, that was the only thing. He said aim higher, shoot higher. What am I going to do, wait until we get somebody else in a higher position, higher office? These are people that hate our country. Hey, John, they hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion. Now, it’s possible I’m wrong. The voter will decide. But when I hear the way they talk about our country, when I hear the anti-Semitic language they use, when I hear the hatred they have for Israel and the love they have for enemies like al-Qaida, then you know what, I will tell you that I do not believe this is good for the Democrat Party.
To cap off the whole session, Trump was asked if he was bothered by white supremacists celebrating his racist tweets over the weekend. “It doesn’t concern me,” Trump said. “Because many people agree with me.”