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Trump vows congresswomen ‘can’t get away with’ criticizing U.S.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 7/19/2019 John Wagner, Colby Itkowitz
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President Trump capped his week of attacks on four minority congresswomen on Friday, saying that while he’s president any criticism of the United States is unacceptable and they “can’t get away with” it.

His statement is at odds with the Constitution, which grants every American the right of free speech.

They “can’t get away with” speaking badly about the United States, Trump told reporters outside the White House. “I can tell you this, you can’t talk that way about our country, not when I’m the president.”

The four Democratic lawmakers have criticized Trump administration policies, most notably on immigration and climate change. Trump, in the past, has criticized the policies of Democratic presidents.

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Earlier Friday, Trump retreated from a day-old claim that he was unhappy when his supporters chanted, “send her back!” about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and instead lashed out at the media for its coverage of the episode and called the crowd at the North Carolina rally “incredible patriots.” 

“Those are incredible people. Those are incredible patriots,” Trump said during an event in the Oval Office at which he again attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the Somali-born lawmaker whom he was criticizing at his rally earlier this week when the chants of “Send her back!” rang out.

“She’s lucky to be where she is, let me tell you,” Trump said. “And the things that she has said are a disgrace to our country.”

Asked about his unhappiness with the rally chant, Trump said, “You know what I’m unhappy with — the fact that a congresswoman can hate our country. I’m unhappy with the fact that a congresswoman can say anti-Semitic things.”

Trump has provided no evidence that Omar ever said she hates the United States, and earlier this week she said, “I probably love this country more than anyone that is naturally born.”

In tweets earlier Friday, Trump characterized media coverage of his rally in Greenville, N.C., as “crazed” and complained that media was “totally calm & accepting” of what he said were “vile and disgusting statements” made by Omar and three other minority congresswomen that he has repeatedly criticized in recent days.

Trump also complained that the media covered the return of Omar to her home state on Thursday. She was greeted at the Minneapolis−St. Paul International Airport by a crowd chanting, “Welcome home, Ilhan!”

Trump has taken repeated aim at Omar and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) since Sunday, when he said in tweets that they should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Michael Collins, Mike Pence, Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Buzz Aldrin standing in a room: President Trump welcomes astronauts Buzz Aldrin, right,  Michael Collins. left, and the family of Neil Armstrong to the Oval Office on Friday in honor the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. © Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock President Trump welcomes astronauts Buzz Aldrin, right, Michael Collins. left, and the family of Neil Armstrong to the Oval Office on Friday in honor the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The other three lawmakers besides Omar were born in the United States. Omar was born in Somalia and became a U.S. citizen in 2000.

Trump’s shift Friday in his comments about the rally chant was reminiscent of how he responded to the deadly clash between white nationalists and protesters in Charlottesville in August 2017.

Speaking from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., he initially denounced an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” an assessment that was widely seen as not going far enough.

Two days later, at the urging of aides, Trump delivered a more forceful, scripted statement a news conference at the White House, calling the racism practiced by white supremacists and other hate groups “evil.”

The next day, however, during a news conference ostensibly about infrastructure in New York, Trump softened that assessment, saying “there’s blame on both sides . . . very fine people on both sides.”

Much of Trump’s criticism of Omar has focused on remarks she has made about Israel. Earlier this year, she tweeted that support for Israel among members of Congress was “all about the Benjamins,” a reference to hundred-dollar bills.

Omar later apologized for her remarks and said she did not realize “how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans.” She also clarified that, in general, her remarks were aimed at criticizing the Israeli government, not Jewish people.

Trump also has falsely accused Omar of praising the terrorist group al-Qaeda.

In his tweets Friday morning, Trump curiously referred to “three Radical Left Congresswomen.” For days he has targeted all four. At his rally, he criticized all four of them by name.

A White House spokesman did not respond to a question regarding the change.

Trump also referred in his morning tweets to “Foul Mouthed Omar.” However, it was Tlaib who generated headlines earlier this year when she used profane language to call for Trump’s impeachment.

Trump, himself, frequently uses profanities. At his rally, he used the word “goddamn” twice, drawing some complaints from Christian commentators.

During an event Thursday in the Oval Office, Trump told reporters that he did not agree with the chant of “Send her back!” and “felt a little bit badly about it.” He also claimed he had moved to cut the chant off by starting to speak against it “very quickly,” even though he paused for 13 seconds until the chant died down.

Kayleigh McEnany, a spokeswoman for Trump’s reelection bid, told CBSN on Thursday that Trump “couldn’t really hear what was going on” when the crowd started to chant.

Trump’s decision to try to distance himself from the chant came after a flurry of GOP lawmakers publicly condemned it, even while being careful not to denounce Trump directly.

Earlier this week, the Democratic-led House voted largely along party lines to condemn Trump’s weekend tweets in which he said the lawmakers should “go back” where they came from.

In his tweets Friday, Trump predicted he would win Minnesota next year, saying voters there “can’t stand” Omar and “her hatred of our Country.”

In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton carried Minnesota by less than two percentage points.

Later Friday morning, Trump retweeted several of his tweets from earlier this week in which he was critical of Omar and the other minority lawmakers, including one in which he said it was “sad to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion.”

Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, on Friday tweeted footage of Omar’s greeting at the airport as she returned to Minnesota the night before.

“This land is your land, This land is my land, This land was made for you and me,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote, adding the hashtag, “#IStandWithIlhan.”

During her remarks at the airport, Omar pledged to continue to be Trump’s “nightmare.”

“When I said I was the president’s nightmare, well you’re watching it now,” she said. “Because his nightmare is seeing a Somali immigrant refugee rise to Congress.”

john.wagner@washpost.com

Ashley Parker and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

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