Trump says he disagrees with 'send her back' chant

President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE on Thursday disavowed the “send her back” chant that rang throughout his North Carolina rally when he attacked Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOvernight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week Omar reflects on personal experiences with hate in making case for new envoy MORE (D-Minn.), as congressional Republicans sought to distance themselves from the slogan amid widespread backlash.

“I was not happy with it. I disagree with it,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Asked why he did not stop the chants, Trump responded, “I think I did. I started speaking very quickly.”

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The president did not speak up to stop the refrain. After the chants began, he paused for 14 seconds, looked around, neither smiling nor frowning, and waited for the crowd to quiet down before continuing his remarks.

Trump’s attempt to renounce the chant was an acknowledgement of the discomfort of some allies, including Republican lawmakers who said the party could suffer damage if it became a signature slogan of the president’s reelection campaign.

Trump sought to distance himself from his supporters at the Greenville, N.C. rally, telling reporters to go there and “ask the people ‘why did they say that?’”

The chant began as the president made a litany of attacks on Omar, part of his days-long onslaught against a group of four minority, progressive Democratic congresswomen aimed at painting the opposing party as extreme.

The president ignited the controversy on Sunday when he attacked Omar and three of her colleagues, saying they should “go back” to their home countries, even though they are all U.S. citizens.

Only Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia, was born outside the country.

Republicans have struggled to walk a tightrope of embracing Trump’s effort to elevate the group of freshman Democrats without fully endorsing the rhetoric he has directed at them, which has been widely criticized as racist. Some members said they expressed their concerns privately on Thursday morning during a breakfast with Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Will Pence primary Trump — and win? Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary MORE.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyTrump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios GOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden House rejects GOP effort to seat McCarthy's picks for Jan. 6 panel MORE (R-Calif.) said at a news conference that the chants “have no place in our party and no place in this country.”

Those sentiments were nearly identical to comments from Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerJuan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer GOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto House Republicans post record fundraising ahead of midterms MORE (Minn.), head of the House Republicans’ campaign arm, who told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast that “there’s no place for that kind of talk.”

But Emmer also defended Trump against accusations of racism, arguing there is “not a racist bone in this president’s body.”

Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerFirst hearing set for lawsuit over Florida's new anti-riot bill NRA appealing Florida ban on gun sales to people under 21 Trump's biggest political obstacle is Trump MORE (N.C.), a member of House Republican leadership, maintained there is a difference between the “send her back” chant and Trump supporters' cries of “lock her up” against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonA path to climate, economic and environmental justice is finally on the horizon Polling misfired in 2020 — and that's a lesson for journalists and pundits Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe MORE during the 2016 campaign, saying that “send them back” cannot become a rallying cry for the GOP in 2020.

“I'm offended by ‘send her back’ or ‘send them back’ — they are American citizens. That's not what the president [meant], I believe his intentions,” Walker, who was at the Trump rally, told reporters.

Omar blasted the chant during an impromptu news conference on Thursday, suggesting the president was endangering others who “share my identity.”

“I am not [scared for my safety.] What I'm scared for is the safety for people who share my identity,” Omar told a group of journalists while standing in the middle of Independence Avenue outside the Capitol. “This is not about me. This is about fighting for what this country should be and what it deserves to be.”

Many in Washington pointed to the chants as the latest sign of how much political discourse has coarsened in the age of Trump.

Some likened the president’s response to his crowd to that of Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' Democrats seek to counter GOP attacks on gas prices Biden nominates Jeff Flake as ambassador to Turkey MORE (R-Ariz.), who cut off a woman during a 2008 rally when he was running for president after she said she could not trust then-Democratic nominee Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama setting up big bash to celebrate his 60th A path to climate, economic and environmental justice is finally on the horizon Emergency infrastructure needed to keep Americans safe: Public media MORE because “he’s an Arab.”

McCain, who feuded with Trump in the years before his death in 2018, grabbed the microphone and corrected her.

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about,” McCain said at the time.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.