GOP rattled by Trump rally

Republican lawmakers are feeling rattled after a long week capped by a raucous presidential rally where thousands chanted “send her back” at Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia With surge in anti-Semitism, political leaders need to be aggressive and reflective in response Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair endorses Sanders MORE (D-Minn.), a Somali refugee who became a U.S. citizen and one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE distanced himself from the chant on Thursday, saying it made him unhappy and that he disagreed with it.

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But he also did not seek to tamp down the chant when it happened on Wednesday night, and the crowd was clearly responding to Trump’s attacks on Omar and three other minority congresswomen he earlier in the week had said should "go back" to their home counties.

Three of the women were born in the United States, and while Republicans have blasted their progressive politics, many were uncomfortable at best with Trump’s choice of words.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe TRUST Act is a plot to gut Social Security behind closed doors Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Bring on the brokered convention MORE (R-Utah), the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 and now an elder statesman of the Senate, warned Thursday that the chants in North Carolina were “offensive” and would likely hurt his party’s image.

“I found the chanting and the chants to be offensive. Very unfortunate for my party but also for our country,” Romney lamented to reporters.

Only a day before, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Democrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner MORE (R-Ky.) had tried to defuse the uproar over Trump’s weekend tweets saying the four Democratic lawmakers should go back to where they came from.

“Lower all this incendiary rhetoric. Everyone should do it," he said.

Other senators complained Trump’s controversial attacks and the media frenzy they caused has distracted from their efforts to highlight the strong economy and other issues.

There was a feeling of exhaustion in the Senate Republican conference after much of Monday and Tuesday was spent responding to media questions about Trump’s tweets.

Just when they thought the storm had passed, it flared up again Thursday because of the rally the night prior.

Republican senators found themselves wearily repeating the statements they had issued earlier in the week.

“I would like to see, as I’ve said before, the tone of the rhetoric in the country used by all just raise a level and create for a little bit more civilized discourse,” said Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate to vote on Trump's Canada, Mexico trade deal Thursday Senate braces for Trump impeachment trial Republicans face internal brawl over impeachment witnesses MORE (R-S.D.), who added that he didn’t watch any of the rally.

Others said they were sick of having to constantly respond to Trump’s behavior.

“I don’t want to regurgitate all the things that have been said. I try not to get too distracted by this or I won’t get anything else done,” said a senior Republican senator. “I don’t know why we feel we’ve got to wallow in it. We’ve got other bigger fish to fry.”

A Senate Republican aide who requested anonymity to describe the sense of fatigue among Republicans said, “Many Republican strategists feel like quitting because they’re tired of waking up every day and twisting themselves into pretzels to rationalize what the president says.”

For many Republican lawmakers, the image of Trump bashing Omar as a boisterous crowd of supporters chanted “send her back” was jarring.  

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders, Warren feud rattles Democrats House GOP campaign chief: Members 'need to get their act together and raise more money' House GOP campaign arm faces ethics complaint over 'trackers' in Capitol buildings MORE (R-Minn.) told reporters at a breakfast that “there’s no place for that kind of talk,” adding, “I don’t agree with it.”

House Republican Vice Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerRepublicans, Democrats offer support after John Lewis cancer diagnosis House GOP vows to use impeachment to cut into Democratic majority A solemn impeachment day on Capitol Hill MORE (R-N.C.) said “it’s not the right way for Americans to talk to other Americans, period.”

“I’m offended by ‘send her back’ or ‘send them back’ — they are American citizens,” he told reporters after attending the Trump rally in North Carolina.

“I can’t sit here as a former pastor who’s worked in refugee camps, who cherishes the wonderful minority communities there are that have supported us and continue to support us without saying, ‘That’s offensive,’” he said.

A group of House Republican leaders told Vice President Pence at a breakfast meeting Thursday they were disturbed by the “send her back” chants and urged him to ask Trump to rein in his rhetoric.  

Even one of Trump’s staunchest allies, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Senate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-S.C.), urged the president to drop personal attacks on Omar and the other three congresswomen, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia Here are the 10 senators who voted against Trump's North American trade deal Artist paints Michelle Obama, other women as battered in campaign against domestic violence MORE (D-N.Y.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Michigan governor urges Zuckerberg to enforce community guidelines after hate speech, threats surface Ayanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia MORE (D-Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia Ayanna Pressley opens up about having alopecia for first time, reveals bald head in interview Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair endorses Sanders MORE (D-Mass.).

“All of these congressmen won their election. They’re American citizens. This is their home as much as mine,” Graham told reporters. “I think everybody should tamp it down.”

The outcry from fellow Republicans prompted Trump to take a step back.

After appearing to relish the enthusiastic response from the crowd Wednesday night, Trump told reporters mid Thursday that he didn’t approve of the “send her back” chants.

“I was not happy with it. I disagree with it,” Trump said.

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

But then Trump later defended supporters who chanted “send her back” as being motivated by patriotism.

“These are people that love our country. I want them to keep loving our country. And I think the congresswomen, by the way, should be more positive than they are,” he said, referring to Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley.

The mixed messages from Trump are likely to raise questions for Republicans about what will happen if the chants start again at Trump’s next rally.

The president in his comments later on Thursday afternoon reiterated that he was not happy with the chant but said the Democratic lawmakers “have a big obligation, and the obligation is to love your country.”

Juliegrace Brufke and Jordain Carney contributed.