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Member of Senate GOP leadership says Trump tweets are racist

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Meghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US MORE (R-Iowa) said Monday that she thinks President TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster 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 McConnellSenate GOP blocks voting rights bill Schumer, McConnell spar as GOP prepares to block voting bill Trump has 'zero desire' to be Speaker, spokesman says 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 says she ranked Wiley first, Stringer second in NYC mayoral vote Five things to watch in the NYC mayor's race primary Heatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change MORE (N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarYoung Turks founder on Democratic establishment: 'They lie nonstop' Hillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters MORE (Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibHouse Republicans introduce resolution to censure the 'squad' Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias Omar: I wasn't equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries MORE (Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyThe Memo: Some Democrats worry rising crime will cost them It's past time we elect a Black woman governor House Republicans introduce resolution to censure the 'squad' 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 UnSister of North Korean leader dismisses prospects for talks with US Sullivan: Comments by North Korea's Kim an 'interesting signal' Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US MORE or when she has criticized his tariff policy.

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