Member of Senate GOP leadership says Trump tweets are racist

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstWhite House makes push for paid family leave and child care reform Houston police chief stands by criticism of McConnell, Cruz, Cornyn: 'This is not political' Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R-Iowa) said Monday that she thinks President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day 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 gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump McConnell says he'll be in 'total coordination' with White House on impeachment trial strategy 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-CortezTrump tweet mocking Greta Thunberg sparks backlash The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasts Tucker Carlson as 'white supremacist sympathizer' MORE (N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarIlhan Omar responds to 'Conservative Squad': 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' Biden narrowly ahead in Iowa as Sanders surges, Warren drops: poll Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE (Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibIlhan Omar responds to 'Conservative Squad': 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' House passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers Biden narrowly ahead in Iowa as Sanders surges, Warren drops: poll MORE (Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyIlhan Omar responds to 'Conservative Squad': 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire Booker unveils legislation for federal bill to ban discrimination against natural hair 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 UnNorth Korea accuses US of 'hostile provocation' in missile test criticism Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment Bolton rips Trump administration's move to block UN meeting on North Korea MORE or when she has criticized his tariff policy.

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