Member of Senate GOP leadership says Trump tweets are racist

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstIowa Democrat tops Ernst in early fundraising report EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 The Hill's Coronavirus Report: CDC Director Redfield responds to Navarro criticism; Mnuchin and Powell brief Senate panel MORE (R-Iowa) said Monday that she thinks President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump anti-reg push likely to end up in court Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel 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 McConnellDemocratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes 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 posts experience getting antibody tested for COVID-19 The continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden's New Deal MORE (N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOvernight Defense: Pentagon memo warns pandemic could go until summer 2021 | Watchdog finds Taliban violence is high despite US deal | Progressive Dems demand defense cuts Progressives demand defense budget cuts amid coronavirus pandemic Ocasio-Cortez endorses progressive Democrat in Georgia congressional primary MORE (Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOvernight Defense: Pentagon memo warns pandemic could go until summer 2021 | Watchdog finds Taliban violence is high despite US deal | Progressive Dems demand defense cuts Progressives demand defense budget cuts amid coronavirus pandemic Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil MORE (Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOvernight Defense: Pentagon memo warns pandemic could go until summer 2021 | Watchdog finds Taliban violence is high despite US deal | Progressive Dems demand defense cuts Progressives demand defense budget cuts amid coronavirus pandemic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The American Investment Council - Trump takes his 'ready to reopen' mantra on the road 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 UnKim Jong Un seeks to continue bolstering North Korea's nuclear capabilities, state media says Overnight Defense: State Dept. watchdog was investigating emergency Saudi arms sales before ouster | Pompeo says he requested watchdog be fired for 'undermining' department | Pensacola naval base shooter had 'significant ties' to al Qaeda, Barr says Trump says investigation into Pompeo shows 'screwed up' priorities MORE or when she has criticized his tariff policy.

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