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

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded McGrath releases ad blasting McConnell with coal miners in Kentucky: 'Which side are you on?' Prediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday urged Democrats and Republicans to tone down their rhetoric but defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative 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-CortezTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded Tlaib says Trump 'scared' of 'Squad' The Memo: Dangers loom for Trump on immigration 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 OmarTlaib says Trump 'scared' of 'Squad' Trump to return to North Carolina to stump for special election candidate Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota 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 Pelosi11 Essential reads you missed this week Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Is there internet life after thirty? 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 ChaoTrump administration takes step to relax truck driver time regulations New guidance on travel with service animals is a step forward, but more can be done The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps 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.