McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSanders is a risk, not a winner Buttigieg sounds alarm after Sanders wins Nevada Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday urged Democrats and Republicans to tone down their rhetoric but defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' Poll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll MORE from charges of racism after he tweeted over the weekend that minority Democratic lawmakers should "go back" to where they came from. 

"The president is not a racist," McConnell declared, after reporters pressed him hard whether Trump's tweets were racist or whether the GOP leader himself would ever use such language. 

Instead McConnell said both sides were guilty of "overheated" rhetoric.

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“I think the tone of all of this is not good for the country but it’s coming from all different ideological points of view. To single out any segment of this I think is a mistake,” he said, defending Trump from recent criticism from Democrats.

In his prepared remarks, McConnell said: "I think there’s a consensus that political rhetoric has really gotten way, way overheated all across the political spectrum."

"Lower all this incendiary rhetoric. Everyone should do it," he added in response to a question.

McConnell pointed to claims by House Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez claps back after article on her dress: 'Sequins are a great accessory to universal healthcare' Democrats working to ensure Trump's second term Ocasio-Cortez announces slate of all-female congressional endorsements MORE (D-N.Y.) that immigrant detainment centers are like “concentration camps” and what he called “anti-Semitic tropes” used by another Democratic freshman, Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarIlhan Omar accuses Meghan McCain of trafficking in 'anti-Muslim smears and hate speech' Sanders wins endorsement of top Muslim group Omar endorses progressive Georgia Democrat running for House seat MORE (D-Minn.).

“We’ve seen the far left throw accusations of racism at everyone, anyone who disagrees with them on anything, including the Speaker of the House,” he noted, referring to the claim by Ocasio-Cortez last week that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury Buttigieg sounds alarm after Sanders wins Nevada Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill MORE (D-Calif.) had singled out minority women lawmakers for criticism.

“From the president, to the Speaker, to freshmen members of the House, all of us have the responsibility to elevate the public discourse,” he said, addressing his comments to Trump as well as members of Congress.

Omar and Ocasio-Cortez are two of the four Democratic congresswomen targeted by Trump's tweets and subsequent remarks. All four women are U.S. citizens and members of minority groups, with Omar the only one who was born outside the United States.

McConnell said leaders in Washington should follow the late Supreme Court Justice Antonia Scalia’s philosophy of attacking ideas, not people.

“Our words do matter,” he said, urging his fellow leaders and member of Congress to tone down their rhetoric without singling out Trump for criticism.

“All of us ought to contribute to a better level of discourse,” he added.

When asked by reporters what he would do if someone told his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoWatchdog sues for records of Boeing's communications with Trump's Transportation Department The Hill's Morning Report - Report of Bolton tell-all manuscript roils Trump defense Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate MORE, who is an immigrant from Taiwan, to go back to her home country, McConnell noted she came to the country legally.

He said Chao “came here at age eight, legally, not speaking a word of English and has realized the American Dream.”

“Legal immigration has been a fulfilling of the American Dream,” he said. “The new people that come here have a lot of ambition, a lot of energy, tend to do very well and invigorate our country. My wife’s a good example of that."

“I’m obviously a big fan of legal immigration. It’s been a big part of my family for a quarter of a century,” he added.