WASHINGTON - As the House of Representatives prepared to vote Tuesday evening on a resolution condemning President Donald Trump's racist tweets about four minority lawmakers, he again lashed out at the freshman Democrats and questioned why Congress was not rebuking them instead.
Trump also insisted his tweets were not racist - "I don't have a Racist bone in my body!" he wrote on Twitter - and urged fellow Republicans not to fall into a "trap" by voting Tuesday night on the Democratic-backed resolution.
Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game. Republicans should not show “weakness” and fall into their trap. This should be a vote on the filthy language, statements and lies told by the Democrat.....
Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game. Republicans should not show “weakness” and fall into their trap. This should be a vote on the filthy language, statements and lies told by the Democrat.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2019
"The Democrat Congresswomen have been spewing some of the most vile, hateful, and disgusting things ever said by a politician in the House or Senate, & yet they get a free pass and a big embrace from the Democrat Party," Trump wrote on Twitter, listing several grievances about the lawmakers. "Why isn't the House voting to rebuke the filthy and hate laced things they have said? Because they are the Radical Left, and the Democrats are afraid to take them on. Sad!"
His tweets and comments he made later Tuesday at the White House marked the third day in a row of attacks on the lawmakers - a series that began Sunday with tweets in which the president said the four Democrats should "go back" to "the crime infested places from which they came."
Of those four Democrats - Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesotta, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan - three were born in the United States. Omar is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Somalia.
The resolution scheduled for a vote Tuesday night "strongly condemns President Donald Trump's racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color."
"We've got to say something," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. "I think we would be complicit as a Congress if we didn't speak out on this. All of us, people of color in my generation, we've heard the 'go back to Africa' stuff since I was a little boy growing up down in Texas. So we have to say something."
The lead-up to the vote was impassioned and not without drama. For more than an hour, the floor debate was put on hold when Rep. Douglas Collins, R-Ga., asked that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's words be stricken from the record after she called the president's comments "racist."
A visibly frustrated Cleaver, who was presiding over the House, reprimanded his colleagues, saying that despite his efforts to be fair, they "don't ever want to pass up an opportunity to escalate."
"We just want to fight," he said before dropping the gavel and abandoning the dais.
Earlier in the debate, there was another tense moment when Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., his voice raised, drew a reproach from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., over his comments that the four congresswomen at the center of Trump's tweets are "anti-American."
"I've looked closely at the chain of three tweets, I see nothing that references anybody's race, I don't see anybody's names," Duffy said, "but the president is referring to people, congresswomen, who are anti-American. And lo and behold everyone in this chamber knows who he is talking about."
Jayapal called the comments "defamatory," and asked that Duffy's words be taken down, but after some back and forth relinquished her request; she said "it was completely inappropriate to tell any of us are anti-American."
Video: Four Democratic congresswomen of color, known as the 'Squad,' responded July 15 to President Trump's tweets saying they should 'go back' to the countries they came from. (The Washington Post)
Tuesday's vote is a rare occasion when a Republican caucus that is overwhelming white and male will be forced to go on the record regarding Trump's controversial rhetoric. During Trump's first two and a half years in office, many lawmakers in his party have gone to great lengths to avoid criticizing him.
With his tweets Tuesday, Trump made clear that he didn't want Republicans to support the resolution. Doing so, he said, would "show 'weakness.' "
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said during a morning news conference that he would vote against the resolution and encourage other Republicans to vote against it as well. McCarthy said he did not consider Trump's tweets to be racist, but about "socialism versus freedom."
In his latest tweets, Trump accused the four lawmakers of being "Horrible anti-Israel, anti-USA, pro-terrorist" and took issue with the "public shouting of the F-word, among many other terrible things."
Speaking to reporters at the end of a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, he held up some papers and claimed to have "a list of things here said by the congresswomen that is so bad, so horrible that I almost don't want to read it."
Asked where the four House Democratic congresswomen should go if they did leave the United States, Trump said "wherever they want, or they can stay."
Video: President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both face battles with four Democratic Congresswomen, known as the 'squad.' Here's what you need to know. (The Washington Post)
"But they should love our country. They shouldn't hate our country," he said.
All four lawmakers have called for Trump's impeachment, and Tlaib has done so using profane language.
Trump frequently used profanity at his campaign rallies, including one in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in February 2016 when he said that companies that have relocated overseas for more favorable tax rates can "go f--- themselves."
Congressional Republicans were largely silent Sunday after Trump's initial tweets - with some fearful of chastising a president popular with the party's base - although a handful began speaking out critically Monday.
Addressing reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said "the president is not a racist" but declined to directly answer repeated questions about whether his tweets were racist.
McConnell said everyone involved should "lower this incendiary rhetoric" and that it would be a mistake "to single out any segment of this."
The rebuke of Trump presents an opportunity for the Democratic caucus to unite around a common aim at a time when there has been infighting between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the four liberal lawmakers informally known as "the Squad" on Capitol Hill.
Several Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday that while they supported the resolution backed by House leaders, they were interested in a more forceful response - such as a censure resolution introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and supported by the four liberal freshmen.
"I think there's going to be a number of responses, and frankly I think what the president did was so egregious I think all of the responses are good," said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "So we'll see what happens."
House Rule Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a close Pelosi ally, said he was "not opposed" to censure but wanted to keep the focus of the day on the resolution so members can express their "deep reservations of concern on the House floor."
"Look, this is an important vote we're going to have today. This is the first time that I can recall that we're actually . . . condemning the president for his words, which were racist, and it's disgusting," he said. "This is not normal. This is so divisive."
Jayapal told reporters that she found Trump's rhetoric "vile and disgusting."
"He is targeting four excellent members of Congress, but he is also targeting the Constitution and our founding values and many of us brown and black folks across the country and actually many other people who have immigrant histories and came to this country because of what it represents."
In a tweet Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez - who represents a district that includes part of Queens, the borough where Trump grew up - took issue with Trump's contention that he is not a racist.
This article was written by John Wagner and Mike DeBonis, reporters for The Washington Post. The Washington Post's Ashley Parker, Rachael Bade and Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.