The president of the United States on Sunday urged some women in Congress to go back to the countries from which they came. The problem — beyond the nasty historical overtones of such a sentiment, of course — is that three of the four women about whom he appeared to be talking were born in the United States.
Trump’s tweets on these kinds of things are often somewhat carefully crafted — enough to give him some plausible deniability. But it’s pretty clear this one was directed at three American-born congresswomen, as well as one refugee-turned-lawmaker, otherizing them and urging them to return to countries in which they weren’t born.
Here’s what Trump said:
“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 . . . and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump said.
He added: “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 . . . it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough."
Then comes the key part: “I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
There’s one person these tweets are obviously about, and that’s Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Trump’s sentiment closely echoes a controversial segment that Fox News host Tucker Carlson did last week in which he urged the Somali-born congresswoman to return to her birth country, citing her alleged “undisguised contempt for the United States and for its people.” Trump appears to have seen this segment and regurgitated it, as he often does with Fox’s programming.
But Trump’s tweets didn’t refer to just one female member of Congress; they referred to “'Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen.” So who else might he be urging to return to their country?
In addition to Omar, here are the other foreign-born Democratic members of Congress, according to a list compiled by the Pew Research Center, along with their birth countries.
- Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), India
- Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), Ecuador
- Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Vietnam
- Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.), Guatemala
Remember how Trump ended his tweets: He said Pelosi would be glad to arrange these members’ travel back to the countries from which they originally came. It’s a reference to the recent infighting between her and some of the party’s more liberal members — a suggestion that Pelosi would be glad to see them gone.
Torres and Mucarsel-Powell, though, haven’t gotten themselves involved in this, and Murphy is a moderate who has taken Pelosi’s side. That leaves Jayapal as the only plausible member of the foreign-born “'Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen” group that he could be talking about, along with Omar. Jayapal has said Pelosi’s dismissive comments about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and others were “not helpful,” amid other comments.
But was Trump talking about a member who was born in India? He described the governments of these members’ birth countries as being a “complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.” A fair number of people might apply such labels to countries like Somalia, Ecuador and Guatemala. But India?
Not according to Trump himself. Just two weeks ago, Trump said this of India while meeting with its prime minister, Narendra Modi: “India is doing very well as a country.” Trump said in late 2017 that Modi was “a great gentleman doing a fantastic job in bringing around lots of factions in India — bringing them all together. That’s what I hear, and that’s good news. And it really is. It’s a lot of good reports coming out of India.”
He tweeted this in May, after Modi’s electoral victory:
So it’s clear Trump wasn’t talking about Jayapal going back to India. He was talking about Omar and someone else. The most logical interpretation is that he meant the other members of “the squad,” — the members who have clashed most directly with Pelosi in recent days: Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).
Ocasio-Cortez’s family is from Puerto Rico (which is a U.S. territory), and she was born in New York. Tlaib is Palestinian American and was born in Detroit. Pressley is black and was born in Cincinnati.
So not only is Trump rekindling a nasty historical talking point about immigrants, he’s apparently otherizing brown-skinned members of Congress by implying they are foreigners who, as Carlson suggested, may not love this country.
That’s an incredible sentiment from the president of the United States, and it’s pretty unmistakable.