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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 OmarMeet the three Democrats who could lead foreign affairs in the House Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' 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 TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden 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 Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump Biden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Paul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' 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 McConnellBiden's climate plans can cut emissions and also be good politics Acting Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia As Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on 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 ThuneRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names 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 EmmerA louder voice for women everywhere GOP sees path to House majority in 2022 House GOP votes to keep leaders in place 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 WalkerNorth Carolina's Mark Walker expected to announce Senate bid Lara Trump mulling 2022 Senate run in North Carolina: report House GOP votes to keep leaders in place 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 GrahamRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Let's give thanks to Republican defenders of democracy Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts MORE (R-S.C.), urged the president to drop personal attacks on Omar and the other three congresswomen, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTrump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere Trump tweets Thanksgiving criticism of NFL QBs for kneeling Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year MORE (D-N.Y.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' MORE (D-Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyGOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' Pelosi faces caucus divisions in Biden era Record number of Black women elected to Congress in 2020 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.