Grassley, Ernst Respond to Trump’s Tweets, as the President Defends Statements

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Donald Trump is not backing away from weekend tweets that are widely being called racist, including by other elected Republicans.

In the tweets, Trump targeted progressive Democratic congresswomen and suggested "they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

The congresswomen he was referring to are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. They have been among the president's most vocal critics, especially on his policies on Israel and Palestine. All four are U.S. citizens. Only Omar was not born in the U.S.

On Monday, Trump said he doesn't feel the comments were racist. The president, who ran on a campaign attacking policies of President Barack Obama and said America was no longer a great nation, repeated that critics of America should leave the country.

“If you're not happy here, then you can leave. As far as I'm concerned, if you hate our country, if you're not happy here, you can leave. And that's what I say all the time. That's what I said in a tweet, which I guess some people think is controversial. A lot of people love it, by the way. A lot of people love it. But if you're not happy in the U.S., if you're complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave. You can leave right now,” said Trump.

The president also said he doesn't care if people do find his words racist and all that matters is that many people agree with him.

The president's own party has been split in their reaction to the president's words. On Monday, Senator Lindsey Graham defended Trump on the phone on Fox News and called on the congresswomen to apologize to the president. Texas Congressman Will Hurd, the only black Republican in the House of Representatives, called the comments racist and xenophobic.

"I think those tweets are racist and xenophobic," Hurd said. "They're also inaccurate. The four women he's referring to are actually citizens of the United States. Three of the four were born here. 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."

In a statement given to Channel 13, Senator Joni Ernst said the president's tweets are a distraction.

“This isn’t constructive; we should stay focused on debating the issues and the radical policy agenda they’re pushing,” said Ernst.

But when pressed by reporters in Washington, D.C., Ernst agreed the president's tweets are racist. Ernst said the congresswomen he singled out are American citizens.

Senator Charles Grassley wouldn't comment on the accusations of racism but said both sides share blame.

"The American people deserve more civility in their politics. Democratically-elected officials should avoid name-calling and be treated respectfully. That`s true of these members of Congress and that`s true of the president," said Grassley.

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