WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday disavowed the “send her back” chant that broke out at his reelection rally Wednesday night when he railed against a Somali-born congresswoman, as Republicans in Congress rushed to distance themselves and their party from the ugly refrain.
Trump said he was “not happy” with the chant, directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a hijab-wearing freshman Democrat whom the president has singled out repeatedly for verbal excoriation. On Thursday he claimed he had tried to cut off the chant, an assertion contradicted by video of the event. Asked why he did not stop it, Trump said, “I think I did — I started speaking very quickly.”
In fact, as the crowd roared “send her back,” Trump looked around silently and paused as the scene unfolded in front of him, doing nothing to halt the chorus.
“I was not happy with it,” Trump said Thursday at the White House. “I disagree with it.”
“I didn’t say that,” he added. “They did.”
Trump’s effort to dissociate himself from his own supporters reflected the misgivings of his allies, who have flooded the upper echelons of his team with expressions of concern in the wake of a rally that veered into ugly nativist territory. Among them were House Republican leaders, who pleaded with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday morning to separate the party from the message embraced by the crowd in Greenville, N.C.
“That does not need to be our campaign call, like we did the ‘lock her up’ last time,” said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., a top official in the party’s messaging arm, who attended the rally and tweeted hours later that he had “struggled” with the chant. “We cannot be defined by this.”
Omar, a Somalian refugee who is one of the first two Muslim women elected to the House, called Trump a “fascist” but said there was nothing new about his behavior or the response of his supporters. “He does that every single day, and it’s no different,” Omar said at the Capitol.
Walker said he had raised the issue with Pence on Thursday, saying the chant was “something that we want to address early,” before it became a staple of the president’s rallies. “We felt like this was going to be part of our discussion, to make sure that we are not defined by that.”