Member of Senate GOP leadership says Trump tweets are racist

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstErnst town hall in Iowa gets contentious over guns Air Force probe finds no corroboration of sexual assault allegations against Trump pick Gun control activists set to flex muscle in battle for Senate MORE (R-Iowa) said Monday that she thinks President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE’s tweets suggesting that minority Democratic lawmakers “go back” to the countries they came from was racist.

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Ernst was pressed by reporters about Trump’s tweets from the weekend when she walked into a weekly leadership meeting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away The malware election: Returning to paper ballots only way to prevent hacking First House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons MORE’s (R-Ky.) office.

Asked if she thought Trump’s comments were specifically racist, Ernst acknowledged, “Yeah, I do.”  

She reiterated that view when asked on another occasion by a CNN reporter if she found Trump’s comments racist.

“Uh, yeah. They’re American citizens,” she said, referring to Trump’s suggestion that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez blasts Electoral College as a 'scam' Trump slams Tlaib after press conference on Israel ban: I don't buy her tears Scaramucci calls on GOP to save country from Trump 'depredations' MORE (N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarScaramucci calls on GOP to save country from Trump 'depredations' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Mueller report fades from political conversation MORE (Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibScaramucci calls on GOP to save country from Trump 'depredations' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Mueller report fades from political conversation MORE (Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyScaramucci calls on GOP to save country from Trump 'depredations' Pro-Trump Republican immigrant to challenge Dem lawmaker who flipped Michigan seat Joseph Kennedy mulling primary challenge to Markey in Massachusetts MORE (Mass.), who all identify as racial minorities, go back to the counties they’re from.

Of that group, only Omar, a native of Somalia, was born outside the United States.  

Ernst also called the comments “not constructive” and “not helpful.”

Like other Republicans, she said Trump should focus on policies instead of personal attacks.

“Let’s focus on policies and we can debate those policies because I personally think the GOP has a stronger platform to talk about. That’s what we should be focusing on,” she said.

Ernst, a first-term member of the Senate, is up for reelection next year and Democrats think they have a shot of defeating her if Trump underperforms expectations.

She has distanced herself from Trump on other occasions, such as earlier this year when she warned Trump not to trust North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnPompeo expresses concern over North Korea missile tests State Dept. extends travel ban to North Korea Can we do business with Kim Jong Un? Leadership analysis might give clues MORE or when she has criticized his tariff policy.

Ernst said Monday that she had not spoken to Trump about his tweets.