Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) on Monday sought to defend President Donald Trump after he urged four women of color in Congress ― all of whom are U.S. citizens ― to “go back” to where they came from on Twitter over the weekend.
The tweet, the Republican congressman insisted, was “obviously not racist.”
“Look, ask the president what he meant by it, but clearly it’s not a racist comment. He could have meant go back to the district they came from, to the neighborhood they came from,” Harris told WBAL’s Bryan Nehman .
“They all didn’t come from foreign countries, so you’d have to presume” that Trump didn’t mean they should leave the U.S., Harris said when pressed about the tweet.
Harris is correct about the background of the Democratic congresswomen. Of the four Trump referred to in his tweet on Sunday, only one was born abroad: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. as a refugee when she was a child.
But the congressman’s strained attempt at defending Trump from charges of racism doesn’t pass muster. The president’s tweet series clearly included a reference to “countries” and not congressional districts or places within the U.S.:
So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
....and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
Harris was one of the few elected Republican officials who defended Trump’s tweet on Monday. While congressional Democrats declared his rhetoric as racist, xenophobic and bigoted, most GOP lawmakers stayed silent on Sunday.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) offered some early pushback, tweeting that Trump was “wrong” to attack the Democratic congresswomen over their personal backgrounds.
POTUS was wrong to say any American citizen, whether in Congress or not, has any ‘home’ besides the U.S. But I just as strongly believe non-citizens who abuse our immigration laws should be sent home immediately, & Reps who refuse to defend America should be sent home 11/2020.— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) July 15, 2019
Will Hurd, another Republican congressman from Texas, called Trump’s tweet “racist” and “unbecoming” in an interview with CNN.
Texas Republican Will Hurd to CNN's Christiane Amanpour: "Those tweets are racist, and xenophobic... It’s also behavior that’s unbecoming of the leader of the free world. He should be talking about things that unite, not divide us."— Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) July 15, 2019
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) described Trump’s comments as “really uncalled for” and “very disappointing.”
“I would imagine, I would know, that a good number of my Republican colleagues don’t appreciate the comments as well,” the Michigan congressman said in a radio interview .
Trump, however, defended himself during a press conference at the White House on Monday, suggesting that articulating any criticism of one’s country is somehow un-American.
“If you’re not happy in the U.S., if you complain all the time, very simply ― you can leave. You can leave right now,” the president said after an event on U.S. manufacturing billed as “Made in America Day.”
Asked by reporters if he has concerns that he is echoing the language of white supremacists, Trump said, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”
More Republicans weighed in on the controversy Monday, with some, like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), strongly condemning the president’s remarks.
“President Trump was wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from. Three of the four were born in America and the citizenship of all four is as valid as mine,” Toomey said in a statement.
Others, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is facing a tough reelection fight next year, issued a more measured statement even as she called on Trump to delete the tweet in question.
“I disagree strongly with many of the views and comments of some of the far-left members of the House Democratic Caucus ― especially when it comes to their views on socialism, their anti-Semitic rhetoric, and their negative comments about law enforcement ― 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.
The story has been updated with Trump’s remarks on Monday and more response from Republican lawmakers.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost .