Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOcasio-Cortez to voters: Tell McConnell 'he is playing with fire' with Ginsburg's seat McConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Video shows NYC subway station renamed after Ruth Bader Ginsburg MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday sought to dispel the uproar over President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE’s controversial tweets targeting four nonwhite Democratic lawmakers, but also defended the president by declaring he is not a racist. 

McConnell tried to quell the controversy that has raged since Sunday when Trump tweeted that four minority Democratic lawmakers should “go back” to their home countries — even though all of them are U.S. citizens — by calling for a broad ceasefire in Washington. 

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“The president is not a racist,” McConnell responded after reporters pressed him Tuesday afternoon on whether Trump’s tweets were racist or whether the GOP leader himself would ever use such language. 

Yet in his prepared remarks he also acknowledged that the president as well as the House Democratic freshmen with whom Trump has feuded over Twitter are responsible for letting things spin out of control. 

“I think there’s a consensus that political rhetoric has really gotten way, way overheated all across the political spectrum,” he said. 

McConnell’s two-pronged strategy, distancing his party from Trump’s rhetoric while also being careful not to alienate the president and his core supporters, mirrored the balancing act that many GOP lawmakers are trying to pull off, with mixed results. 

Trump’s tweet from Sunday, which he backed up with similar rhetoric during a Rose Garden ceremony Monday, set GOP lawmakers scrambling to control the political fallout. 

A handful of Republican lawmakers facing potentially tough races next year in Colorado, Maine, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona took different tacks in their responses, signaling the lack of a general plan on how to react to the president’s most incendiary and unexpected statements. 

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Will Republicans' rank hypocrisy hinder their rush to replace Ginsburg? Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE (Ariz.), one of the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbents, let it be known through a spokeswoman that she would not comment on the matter.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Will Republicans' rank hypocrisy hinder their rush to replace Ginsburg? Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 MORE (R-Colo.), who has a tough race in a state Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Democratic super PAC to hit Trump in battleground states over coronavirus deaths Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE carried in 2016, said he disagreed with Trump’s language, though stopped short of calling it racist.

“I disagree with them. I wouldn’t have said them. I wouldn’t have done that,” he said. “That’s not what we ought to focus on in this country.” 

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstPoll shows tight Senate race in Iowa Will Republicans' rank hypocrisy hinder their rush to replace Ginsburg? Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day MORE (Iowa), a member of Senate GOP leadership and a top Democratic target in 2020, acknowledged Monday that she thought Trump’s comments were racist.

“Uh, yeah. They’re American citizens,” she said, referring to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez to voters: Tell McConnell 'he is playing with fire' with Ginsburg's seat Lawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal Why Democrats must confront extreme left wing incitement to violence MORE (D-N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarDemocrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Larry Kudlow defends response to coronavirus: Trump 'led wisely' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Woodward book revelations rock Washington MORE (D-Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibGeorge Conway: 'Trump is like a practical joke that got out of hand' Pelosi endorses Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate primary challenge The Democratic Party platform represents our big tent MORE (D-Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleySan Francisco considers changing local voting age to 16 Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy MORE (D-Mass.). Only Omar, who was born in Somalia, is an immigrant.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Most Americans think winner of election should pick next Supreme Court justice: poll Murkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election MORE (R-Maine), who is up for reelection in another state that voted for Clinton, on Monday urged Trump to delete his tweets.

One aide to a vulnerable Senate Republican incumbent said lawmakers in swing states are “boxed in” because if they criticize Trump’s language, they risk angering his supporters, but if they defend the president, they could alienate swing and minority voters.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenate GOP eyes early exit Why the US should rely more on strategy, not sanctions Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (Ind.) said candidates in tough races such as McSally, who represents a state with a large number of Hispanic voters, wouldn’t necessarily be hurt by Trump’s comments.

“I think McSally’s clearly going to win. She’s an exceptional candidate, a fighter pilot who’s already been delivering for the people of Arizona,” he said, predicting she would present an independent brand to voters next year.

Targeted GOP incumbents hailing from more traditionally Republican states have defended Trump more forcefully, however.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said Monday it was “outrageous” to describe Trump’s language as racist, arguing “of course they’re not racist.”

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Will Republicans' rank hypocrisy hinder their rush to replace Ginsburg? Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE (R-N.C.), who on Monday said he wasn’t familiar with Trump’s tweets despite massive public attention, on Tuesday sought to defend Trump.

“I don’t think the president’s a racist, I don’t think he’s a xenophobe,” Tillis said. “I think he’s frustrated with people shifting the discussion away from the real problems he’s trying to solve, like the border problem.” 

Like many other GOP lawmakers, Tillis tried to turn the conversation to the strength of the economy.

“The fact of the matter is we have a great story to tell about the economy, we’ve got a crisis at the border. We’ve got issues that we need to solve here, and I think this kind of discussion is casting attention away from things most of the American people want us to focus on,” Tillis said.

Trump last month formally endorsed Tillis in his 2020 reelection bid. 

Republican lawmakers appeared on Tuesday to coalesce behind Trump more than the day before. House Republican leaders, for example, strongly defended the president at a Tuesday press conference. 

One GOP lawmaker speaking on background said he had received pushback from Trump’s supporters at home after admonishing the president over his language Monday.

 “I’m getting some pushback from Republicans and getting no credit from liberals,” the senator said of the reaction he got from criticizing Trump’s comments.

McConnell on Tuesday quickly sought to deflect scrutiny onto the four Democratic lawmakers Trump attacked in his tweet over the weekend by pointing to their own inflamed rhetoric about immigrant detention centers and even Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAs families deal with coronavirus, new federal dollars should follow the student Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates Hypocrisy rules on both sides over replacing Justice Ginsburg MORE (D-Calif.), who was accused last week of singling out female Democratic lawmakers of color.  

 “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,” McConnell said, defending Trump from Democratic attacks.

“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 a recent claim by Ocasio-Cortez last week that Pelosi had singled out her and a few other colleagues who are minorities.

McConnell’s comments came after two days of Democratic attacks on Trump for his comments and on GOP lawmakers for not calling out the president more forcefully.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Top GOP senator calls for Biden to release list of possible Supreme Court picks MORE (Ill.) earlier on Tuesday slammed McConnell as Trump’s “greatest enabler.”

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerRepublican senator says plans to confirm justice before election 'completely consistent with the precedent' Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Graham signals support for confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year MORE (N.Y.) on Monday called the subdued Republican criticism of Trump’s rhetoric “inexcusable” and warned they were “making a deal with the devil” by going along with the president because they support his agenda of tax cuts and deregulation.