GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE’s attacks on four minority Democratic lawmakers have created a rift in the GOP, putting many Republicans on the defensive.

Most are seeking to steer clear of the firestorm, but a few GOP lawmakers came out against Trump’s suggestion that the four women of color “go back” to their home countries, even though all are U.S. citizens.

ADVERTISEMENT

One of the strongest denunciations came from Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Democrat running for Will Hurd's seat raises over million in first 100 days of campaign Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (Texas), the only African American House Republican, whose district has a large number of Hispanic residents. He blasted Trump’s tweets as “racist” and “xenophobic” in a CNN interview.

He called the president’s remarks “unbecoming of the leader of the free world.”

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottIt's time to empower military families with education freedom GOP Sen. Tim Scott says if he runs in 2022 it will be his last race When it comes to student debt, it is time to talk solutions MORE (S.C.), the lone African American Republican in the Senate, characterized Trump’s language as “unacceptable” and “racially offensive.”

The president’s comments also drew rebukes from GOP lawmakers facing tough reelection campaigns.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSusan Collins challenger hit with ethics complaints over reimbursements Overnight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs MORE (R-Maine), who is seeking another term in a state that voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump takes aim at media after 'hereby' ordering US businesses out of China Trump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Taylor Swift says Trump is 'gaslighting the American public' MORE in 2016, urged Trump to delete his tweets attacking the Democratic lawmakers and implying they’re not real Americans.

“I disagree strongly with many of the views and comments of some of the far-left members of the House Democratic Caucus … but the President’s tweet that some Members of Congress should go back to the ‘places from which they came’ was way over the line, and he should take that down,” Collins said in a statement.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.) said Trump was “wrong” to say the four Democrats — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Memo: Dangers loom for Trump on immigration Students retreating from politics as campuses become progressive playgrounds Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota MORE (N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTrump to return to North Carolina to stump for special election candidate Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support MORE (Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibMichigan city declines to renew contract with ICE to hold detainees Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support MORE (Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyFormer GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Poll: Voters split on whether it's acceptable for Israel to deny Omar, Tlaib visas NJ college censures trustee over posts targeting 'the squad' MORE (Mass.) — go back to the countries where they are from.

“Three of the four were born in America and the citizenship of all four is as valid as mine,” Toomey said.

But other GOP lawmakers were more timid in their efforts to steer Trump away from stoking racial resentment.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhite House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts GOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death MORE (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill, spent Sunday golfing with the president. He urged Trump to focus on the policies of his political opponents instead of engaging in personal attacks.

“We don’t need to know anything about them personally. Talk about their policies,” he said on “Fox & Friends.”

Asked if Trump went too far, Graham responded: “They are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies. The bottom line here is this is a diverse country.”

ADVERTISEMENT

But Trump appeared not to take such pushback as much of a rebuke. In a Rose Garden ceremony Monday afternoon, he argued that Graham was in some ways harsher on the minority Democratic lawmakers criticized by the president because Graham called them “a bunch of communists.”

For many Republicans, Trump’s heated rhetoric on Twitter has become akin to a recurring weekend migraine that causes lawmakers pain early in the week but then soon dissipates.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence MORE (R-Ky.) on Monday declined to comment on Trump’s language, telling reporters he would be happy to take their questions on Tuesday, when he usually holds a weekly press conference.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell, said, “What the president said was a mistake, and it was an unforced error.”

While GOP lawmakers were careful to say they didn’t approve of Trump’s behavior or language, most stopped short of condemning it as racist — doing so would open them up to criticism from Trump’s loyal base.

Democrats have been quick to accuse them of silently condoning the president’s conduct.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor said Trump’s comments “drip with racism” and asked whether GOP lawmakers were staying quiet about “xenophobic” comments “out of embarrassment or agreement.”

“Many of my Republican colleagues let these moments sail by without saying even a word. The Republican leadership especially rarely criticizes the president directly, even in a situation like this that so clearly merits it,” he said.

Schumer warned that if Republicans are overlooking racist behavior to advance their agenda of tax cuts and deregulation, they’re “making a deal with the devil.”

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad MORE (Mo.), a member of the elected Senate GOP leadership, took a similar tack to Graham’s.

“Just because the so-called squad constantly insults and attacks the president isn’t a reason to adopt their unacceptable tactics,” he said of the four Democratic lawmakers.

“There is plenty to say about how destructive House Democrats’ policies would be for our economy, our health care system and our security. I think that’s where the focus should be,” Blunt said.

Sen. 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 (Iowa), another member of the GOP leadership team, said Trump’s tweets are “not constructive” and “not helpful.”

Like Graham, she said Trump should focus on policies.

“I personally think the GOP has a stronger platform to talk about. That’s what we should be focusing on,” said Ernst, who is up for reelection next year.

Pressed by reporters on whether she thought Trump’s comments were racist, Ernst said, “Yeah, I do.”

Rep. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisConservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump creates new firestorm with 'go back' remarks MORE (R-Md.) accused Democrats of using any excuse to play the race card against Trump.

“No, they’re not, they’re obviously not racist,” Harris told WBAL’s Bryan Nehman when asked about Trump’s Sunday tweets. “But again, when anyone disagrees with someone now the default is to call them racist, and this is no exception.”

One major question for McConnell and Republican leaders is whether they will put a resolution disapproving of Trump’s language on the Senate floor.

Pelosi announced in a letter to colleagues Monday that the House plans to vote on such a resolution soon and send it to the Senate.

“The House cannot allow the President’s characterization of immigrants to our country to stand. Our Republican colleagues must join us in condemning the President’s xenophobic tweets,” she wrote.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney: 'Putin and Kim Jong Un deserve a censure rather than flattery' A US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (R-Utah), a frequent Trump critic, stopped short of calling the tweets racist but indicated that he would consider voting for a resolution of disapproval if it came to the floor.

“If that were to come, people know where I stand,” he said.

“My own view is that what he said, and what was tweeted, was destructive, was demeaning, was disunifying, and frankly, it was very wrong,” Romney told reporters.