Donald Trump has said he was unhappy with his supporters chanting “send her back” after he criticised a young Democratic congresswoman who he suggested should leave the US.
Speaking in the Oval Office, the US president claimed he tried to stop the chant, which came after he recited a litany of complaints about Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who fled to the US as a child with her family from Somalia.
Video shows the president pausing his remarks, appearing to drink in the uproar and not admonishing his supporters as they chanted.
“I was not happy with it,” Mr Trump said a day later as some prominent Republicans criticised the chant at the president’s re-election event.
He said he “would certainly try” to stop the chant should it return at a subsequent rally.
So far, no Republican lawmakers are directly taking on Mr Trump over the episode.
The muted reactions by congressional Republicans followed a pattern that has become familiar after numerous incidents in Mr Trump’s presidency when he has made antagonistic or racially provocative comments.
At the campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Mr Trump tore into four progressive congresswomen who last weekend he tweeted should return to their native countries if they “hate America”.
Of the four, who strongly oppose many of Mr Trump’s policies, one is black, one is Hispanic and two are Muslim. All are American citizens, and three were born here.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that such cries “have no place in our party and no place in this country”.
But Mr McCarthy, a staunch Trump ally, said the president’s aversion to Ms Omar is based on ideology, not race.
“This is about socialism v freedom,” he said, a refrain Republicans are increasingly using as they begin trying to frame their offensive against Democrats for the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.
Republican Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that the “send her back” chant was “ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union”.
Fellow Republican Tom Emmer said: “There’s no place for that kind of talk. I don’t agree with it.”
But he defended Mr Trump, saying there is not “a racist bone in this president’s body” and asserting that Mr Trump “said wrong” what he actually meant.
“What he was trying to say is that if you don’t appreciate this country, you don’t have to be here. That goes for every one of us. It has nothing to do with your race, your gender, your family history. It has to do with respecting and loving the country that has given you the opportunities which you have.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox Business News that it is time to “lower the rhetoric” about racism. He did not mention the crowd’s chants or Mr Trump’s acceptance of them.
Mr Trump has also been criticising Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
The Democratic-led House voted on Tuesday to condemn Mr Trump’s tweets as racist. On Wednesday, it rejected an effort by one Democrat that was opposed by party leaders to impeach Mr Trump.
- Press Association