Congressional Republicans have made their decision: Most of them are defending or at least not speaking out against President Trump amid the fallout from his “go back” remarks directed at four minority congresswomen.
But how do you defend racist language from the president of the United States? It appeared particularly difficult for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose wife is an immigrant, a woman of color and a member of Trump’s Cabinet. Reporters asked McConnell multiple times at his regular Tuesday news conference why he’s standing by the president on this, and McConnell didn’t have an answer. (The most obvious answer, of course, is that Republicans have a lot to lose by speaking out against Trump.)
Here’s the telling exchange between McConnell and reporters, annotated. Click on the highlighted text to read the annotation.
QUESTION: Several of you, including Senator Young, have talked about socialism and — and problems with which you have — policies and approaches with some of these Democratic members. That said, then the president uses such language that’s so far over the line, regardless of what their points of view are, or policies. Doesn’t that undercut your argument that these issues are — are a problem? That these policies, these approaches are a problem for the country? Doesn’t that undercut your argument, when he uses [language like that]?
MCCONNELL: Well, obviously, I think it’s a good idea to focus on what our Democratic colleagues are up to. The Green New Deal, their version of it, would take away your job. Medicare-for-all would take away your private health insurance. And if they made any effort to pay for all of this, they’d have to go after the most productive parts of our economy, because remember, the top 10 percent of taxpayers provide 70 percent of the revenue for the federal government. So I think this is a prescription for slowing America to a crawl. And I think it’s also important to remember that most countries that ended up adopting socialism did it by voting for it. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “The problem with socialism is, pretty soon, you run out of other people’s money.” So yes, I think we’re better off to talk about the policies of our adversaries. And as I said earlier, and I think, quite clearly, to lower all this incendiary rhetoric. Everyone involved should do that.
QUESTION: Senator McConnell, you’re — you’re married to an immigrant who’s a nationalized [sic] U.S. citizen. If someone were to say to her she should go back to her country because of her criticism of federal policies, wouldn’t you consider that a racist attack?
MCCONNELL: Well, the secretary of transportation came here at age 8 legally, not speaking a word of English, and has realized the American Dream, and I think all of us think that this is a process of renewal that’s gone on in this country for a very long time and is good for America, and we ought to continue it.
QUESTION: Was it racist for him to say go back to your country?
MCCONNELL: As I said, legal immigration has been a fulfilling of the American Dream. The new people who come here have a lot of ambition, a lot of energy, tend to do very well and invigorate our country, and my wife’s a good example of that.
QUESTION: Would you ever use the words, “Go back to where you came from”?
MCCONNELL: Look, I — I — I’m obviously a big fan of legal immigration. It’s been a big part of my family for a quarter of a century. As I look around the country and watch the contributions that have been made by new arrivals, and the children of new arrivals, it’s been reinvigorating America for hundreds of years. So I’m a big fan of legal immigration.
QUESTION: Do you think that the president would be more likely to tone down his rhetoric if Republican leaders like yourself spoke out more forcefully against it?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think I’ve just said I think everybody ought to tone down their rhetoric. We have examples of that across the ideological spectrum in the country — all across it. Everyone ought to tone down their rhetoric, and we ought to move back to talking about the issues.
QUESTION: But you’ve stopped short of calling his comments racist.
MCCONNELL: Look, I — I’m sorry?
QUESTION: You’ve stopped — but you’ve stopped short of calling his comments racist.
MCCONNELL: Well, the president’s not a racist. (CROSSTALK.) The president’s not a racist. And I think the tone of all of this is not good for the country, but it’s coming from all different ideological points of view. That’s the point. To single out any segment of this, I think, is a mistake. There’s been this kind of rhetoric from a whole lot of different sources all across the ideological spectrum in our country.