Trump campaign says president "can't control" chants at rallies

/ CBS News

President Trump's campaign on Thursday defended his handling of the racist chants his supporters directed at Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota during a rally in North Carolina. Mr. Trump has been criticized for not responding during the rally.

Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary for the president's reelection bid, told CBSN's "Red & Blue" that Mr. Trump "couldn't really hear what was going on" when some of the attendees at the Greensville rally on Wednesday chanted "send her back!" The crowd made those cheers as the president was lambasting Omar, a Somali-American, and her political views on stage.

"The president can't control what the thousands of people in the room do," McEnany said. "He couldn't hear it, as he said. I take him at his word."

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Despite his scathing criticism of the progressive congresswoman at his rally, Mr. Trump on Thursday tried to distance himself from the cheers of his supporters. "I was not happy when I heard that chant," he told reporters at the Oval Office.

Asked if the campaign planned to take any preemptive measures to make sure attended don't participate in racist chants, McEnany said it is "entirely up to" the president to determine how to handle similar situations if they arise in the future.

The president's tirade against Omar and her fellow progressive lawmakers of color — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — has drawn withering condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump morning posted a series of tweets deriding "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen," alluding to Omar, Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib.

"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," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. "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."

The president claimed that the four Democratic congresswomen "originally came" from foreign countries but only Omar was born outside the U.S. Pressley, who is African American, was born in Ohio. Ocasio-Cortez, of Puerto Rican heritage, was born in New York. Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, was born in Detroit. Omar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Somalia, a country she and her family fled from because of a civil war and ethnic strife.

Although critics have accused the president of stoking racial animus with his remarks, McEnany said the president's criticism of the four congresswomen of color has "nothing to do with race."

"If you are not happy with this country, if you want to compare us to terrorists, if you want to say we're responsible for terrorism, trade places with an immigrant who wants to be here and take advantage of the greatness of this country," she said. Mr. Trump has falsely accused Omar of supporting terrorism and minimalizing terrorist attacks.

First published on July 18, 2019 / 8:36 PM

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