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

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Overnight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday urged Democrats and Republicans to tone down their rhetoric but defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' 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-CortezThe battle of two Cubas An affordable zero-emissions grid needs new nuclear Recovery First: The American comeback shouldn't hinge on warmed-over policy agendas 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 OmarHouse Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Police killing in Minneapolis puts new scrutiny on Biden pick 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 PelosiPelosi calls Trump's decision to withdraw US from WHO 'an act of extraordinary senselessness' House Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO 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 campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Bottom line Democrats to probe Trump's replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog 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.