Dont take the bait – US congresswomen

Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at a press conference on MondayImage copyright

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Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to the attacks at a press conference on Monday

The four US congresswomen attacked by US President Donald Trump in a series of racially charged tweets have dismissed his remarks as a distraction.

Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib urged the US people “not to take the bait” at a Monday press conference.

Mr Trump suggested the four women – all US citizens – “can leave”.

He has defended his comments and denied allegations of racism.

Addressing reporters, the four women – known as The Squad – all said the focus should be on policy and not the president’s words.

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Media captionIlhan Omar responds to President Trump’s racially charged tweets in a press conference

“This is simply a disruption and a distraction from the callous chaos and corrupt culture of this administration, all the way down,” Ms Pressley said.

Both Ms Omar and Ms Tlaib also called for Mr Trump to be impeached.

Their response comes after Mr Trump launched a Twitter tirade on Sunday, telling the four women – three of whom were born in the US and one, Ms Omar, who was born in Somalia – to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”.

On Friday, all four women had testified to a House committee about conditions in a migrant detention centre they had visited. Mr Trump insisted conditions at the centre had had “great reviews”.

He redoubled these attacks on Monday. “If you are not happy, if you are complaining all the time, you can leave,” he told a heated news conference outside the White House.

The remarks have been widely condemned as racist and xenophobic.

What did the congresswomen say?

All four women insisted that health care, gun violence, and in particular detentions of migrants on the US border with Mexico should be in focus.

“The eyes of history are watching us,” said Ms Omar said, decrying the “mass deportation raids” and “human rights abuses at the border”.

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Media captionPresident Trump defends racially charged tweets

Ms Omar and Ms Tlaib meanwhile called for Mr Trump to be impeached – something Democratic party leaders have so far refused to pursue.

They later directly addressed the president’s comments, with Ms Ocasio-Cortez saying “We don’t leave the things that we love”.

“When this president ran and until today he talked about everything that was wrong with this country and how he was going to make it great,” Ms Omar said, arguing that to call them “un-American” was “complete hypocrisy”.

What’s been the response?

Democrats have roundly condemned the president, and have been joined by several Republicans.

After the press conference US Senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Mr Trump’s remarks “destructive, demeaning, and disunifying”.

“People can disagree over politics and policy, but telling American citizens to go back to where they came from is over the line,” he tweeted.

The president meanwhile continued his attacks on Twitter as the congresswomen spoke.

“If you are not happy here, you can leave! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America,” he wrote.

Trump keeps pushing racial boundaries

Analysis by Gary O’Donoghue, BBC Washington Correspondent

Telling people of colour to go back to where they came from cannot be regarded as anything other than a blatant evocation of a well-worn trope of racist language and sentiment that’s as old as the hills.

But usually politicians who want to play the race card reach for the “dog whistle” – a political nudge and a wink that tells their supporters that they share their views that cannot easily be voiced in a liberal democracy without alienating people whose support they will need.

President Trump, however, has pushed the boundaries on racially charged language ever since he became a candidate.

Remember how Mexicans were Rapists and Drug dealers, how there were “good people” on both sides of the argument when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, and how the President didn’t see why America should allow more people in from “shithole” countries in Africa.

So what is his strategy? Keeping his core support fired up is unquestionably part of it. And exploiting divisions within Democratic ranks which have had racial overtones in recent days is another reason for his actions.

But in many ways, we should not be surprised by this President ratcheting up the political heat in this particular way.

After all, it’s a short intellectual step from the economic nationalism encapsulated in the idea of America First, to a more thorough-going nationalism that sees a threat from the enemy within.

Follow Gary O’Donoghue on Twitter

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