Member of Senate GOP leadership says Trump tweets are racist

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Turkish media paints White House visit as Erdoğan triumph over Trump Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House MORE (R-Iowa) said Monday that she thinks President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation 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 McConnellKavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings 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-CortezOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Overnight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez drum up support for Green New Deal public housing plan MORE (N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Omar renews claim Stephen Miller is a 'white nationalist' amid calls for him to step down MORE (Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Sanders: Fighting anti-Semitism 'is very personal' MORE (Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Justice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race 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 UnHuman rights: Help or hindrance to toppling dictators? North Korea says US offered to resume nuclear talks in December North Korea issues warning over US-South Korea drills MORE or when she has criticized his tariff policy.

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