WASHINGTON — Nervous Republicans, from senior members of Congress to his own daughter Ivanka, urged President Donald Trump on Thursday to repudiate the “send her back” chant directed at a Somali-born congresswoman during his speech the night before at a rally in North Carolina, amid widespread fears the rally had veered into territory that could hurt the party in 2020.
In response, Trump disavowed the behavior of his own supporters in comments to reporters at the White House and claimed he had tried to contain, it an assertion clearly contradicted by video of the event.
Trump said he was “not happy” with the chant directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, D-Minn., whom the president had been in the middle of denouncing as an anti-American leftist who has spoken in “vicious, anti-Semitic screeds,” when the chant was taken up by the crowd.
Pressed on 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 paused and looked around silently for more than 10 seconds as the scene unfolded in front of him. “I didn’t say that,” he added. “They did.”
Trump’s cleanup attempt reflected the misgivings of political allies who have warned him privately that however much his hard-core supporters in the arena might have enjoyed the moment, the president was playing with political fire, according to people briefed on the conversations.
Among them were House Republican leaders, who pleaded with Vice President Mike Pence to distance the party from the message embraced by the crowd in North Carolina. Pence conveyed that message directly to Trump, according to people familiar with the exchange.
“That does not need to be our campaign call,” said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., a top official in the party’s messaging arm. Walker, who attended the rally, later tweeted he had “struggled” with the chant. “We cannot be defined by this,” he said.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, spoke to him about it Thursday morning before he left the White House residence, the people familiar with the discussions said.
Omar, a Somali refugee, responded Thursday by calling 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.