Black lawmakers and their allies on Capitol Hill continue to blast President Donald Trump for a series of incendiary social media comments that a House resolution on Tuesday night officially condemned as “racist.”
After some attempts to keep House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) from bringing House Resolution 489 to the floor, which states in part that “racist comments have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color” it passed by a vote of 240 to 187. While Democrats overwhelmingly supported the measure, the vote skewed along partisan lines and only four Republican lawmakers and one Independent joined them.
The resolution comes amid a firestorm that erupted after Twitter comments by Trump on July 14 that took not so subtle aim at Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). The four Democratic Freshman in Congress—all women of color—were elected in the November 2018 midterm shakeup. They’ve been vocal critics of the Trump Administration and its policies. Several recently visited immigration border facilities where families from African and Latin American countries have reportedly been separated and subjected to inhumane conditions while seeking asylum.
“So interesting to see “Progressive” Democratic Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe. …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,” Trump tweeted over the weekend. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how. “
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Yet all of the Congresswomen are U.S. citizens; Omar was born in Somalia before becoming a naturalized citizen as a teenager. In a Capitol Hill press conference on Monday, the lawmakers (nicknamed “The Squad”) said they refuse to allow the president’s comments to intimidate them; he’s suggested they “hate” America.
“Despite the occupant of the White House’s attempts to marginalize us and to silence us,” Rep. Pressley said, “please know that we are more than four people. We ran on a mandate to advocate for and to represent those ignored, left out and left behind. Our squad is big. Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world, and that is the work that we want to get back to. And given the size of this squad in this great nation, we cannot, we will not, be silenced.”
The Squad has received support from peers in the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as national advocates and activists. The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), and the Ms. Foundation for Women all released statements denouncing Trump’s comments.
Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, Second Vice-Chair of the CBC told ESSENCE in a statement she was not surprised by Trump’s rhetoric because it fits a pattern.
“This is the same person who insulted Rep. Maxine Waters by calling her “low IQ”; this is the same person who supported his former Chief of Staff, John Kelly, after he made an untruthful statement about Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and has yet to apologize; this is the same person who has begun the birtherism rumors about Senator Kamala Harris as he did with President Obama, and finally this is the same person who referred to his former employee Omarosa Manigault Newman as a `dog’,” she said.
Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) rose to speak yesterday on the House floor. He noted that while the president has indicated there are “many people [who] agree with his comments,” countless Americans were disappointed that “the individual who acts as our representative on the world stage would share these racist sentiments.”
He added that the nation has weathered “too many obstacles and undergone too many lessons learned” to accept such “offensive” statements.
“We have endured slavery, forced displacement, Jim Crow laws, and internment camps. We are still working to fight against redlining, voter intimidation, hate crimes, and mass incarceration. Our country deserves better than this,” Cummings said. “The world deserves better than this.”
Democratic Leaders such as House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)—both white males—said the resolution was not about partisanship, but confronting racism.
“I’ve always believed racism is the poison of America,” said Schumer. who has recently said he will support a bill to study reparations. “When Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in the 1830s—he was a French, famous historian. And he said—and America was a nobody then – and he said, America is going to become the greatest country in the world, it was a puny country compared to France, or Britain or Russia. But one thing could do it in: race and racism. He said that in the 1830s. Well, it’s still true. Racism is the poison of America, and the disparities in race affect everything.”
In his remarks to colleagues, Hoyer said that the resolution “is about prejudice and the necessity to confront it.”
“I will not speculate…about the motives or intentions of the President, but no one can dispute that the words he said and wrote were racist words – and have been called such by [some] Republicans – with a long history of being used to demean, dismiss, and denigrate some American citizens as less than others, as not fully belonging in our country because of the color of their skin or the origin of their families.”
The commander in chief has continued to fire off Tweets about the Congresswomen and suggested they apologize. Trump hinted in a Tweet today that he may bring the controversy up at his latest campaign rally scheduled tonight in Greenville, North Carolina.
Congresswoman Karen Bass, Chair of the CBC, told ESSENCE that Americans must capitalize on this moment “to make it about much more than just condemning” the president.
“This moment must be about moving our country towards the morals and values that our country strives to represent. Luckily for us, the four women Donald Trump attacked embody the very best of what is possible in our nation. They do not come from privilege, they have all overcome obstacles, and have now made their way to the halls of Congress. We all embody their strength and determination so we must continue to fight for our community and our country every single day,” she said.