Politics & Government

‘Send her back,’ crowd chants at Rep. Omar during Trump campaign rally in NC

President Donald Trump made his first 2020 campaign stop in North Carolina on Wednesday, but he carried with him a simmering feud with four liberal Democratic congresswomen of color whom he accused of hating the country and said they should leave it.

And the Greenville crowd cheered along.

Trump, campaigning at East Carolina University along with Vice President Mike Pence and several members of the North Carolina delegation, ran through a litany of statements made by the four freshmen congresswomen — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

“Send her back,” the crowd chanted as Trump went through a list of actions by Omar, a Somali refugee who was granted asylum in the United States as a child and became a citizen in her teens, in 2000.

Trump’s 2016 campaign rallies often featured chants of “Lock her up,” in reference to Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Responding to the rally, Omar tweeted a quote: “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise. -Maya Angelou”

Angelou, the late author and poet, lived in North Carolina for decades and taught at Wake Forest University. She died in 2014 in Winston-Salem.

“Though it was brief, I struggled with the “send her back” chant tonight referencing Rep. Omar,” Rep. Mark Walker, a Greensboro Republican, tweeted after attending the rally. “Her history, words & actions reveal her great disdain for both America & Israel. That should be our focus and not phrasing that’s painful to our friends in the minority communities.”

Trump claims on Ilhan Omar

Trump said Omar proclaimed al-Qaida is great, a claim that several media outlets have found to be false. He said Omar smeared U.S. service members involved in the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia in 1993. Omar wrote in a tweet in 2017 that “thousands of Somalis (were) killed by American forces that day.”

Trump said Omar said that terrorism is a reaction to United States involvement in other countries’ affairs. In 2013, in an interview about a deadly terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya, Omar said: “Nobody wants to face how the actions of the other people that are involved in the world have contributed to the rise of the radicalization and the rise of terrorist acts,” according to Fox News.

Trump also mentioned an Omar quote from earlier this year, but omitted the context of the quote. “Ignorance really is pervasive in many parts of this country,” Omar said on a podcast. She was referring to knowledge of refugee resettlement policy by Minnesota Republicans who were trying to stop refugees from resettling in the state.

“And so it is not that they might not be knowledgeable about this, but they use it as a tool to stir up hate and division,” she said.

Omar, who is Muslim, apologized in February for a tweet that House Democratic leadership called “an anti-Semitic trope.”

“They don’t love our country. I think in some cases they hate our country,” Trump said. “If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.”

Despite campaigning in 2015 and 2016 on a vision of America in decline — with terrible carnage at home and having become a laughingstock abroad, as The New York Times reported — Trump has taken to repeating that people unhappy with the country can leave.

While Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, an N.C. State graduate, addressed the crowd inside the 8,000-seat Williams Arena, the crowd chanted “leave” directed at people who don’t love the country.

Condemnation resolution

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a resolution of condemnation of the president for a series of racist tweets sent Sunday.

“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 wrote in a series of three tweets.

“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. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!” Trump said.

All four are U.S. citizens. Three were born in the United States.

Ocasio-Cortez, the best-known of the congresswomen, has been critical of the detention centers that the Trump administration is using to hold migrants from Central America, calling them “concentration camps.” Trump mentioned it during his speech.

The four women — often dubbed “The Squad” — shot back at the president Monday after his tweets.

“This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms, or it is happening on national TV, and now it’s reached the White House garden,” Omar said at a press conference at the Capitol.

No Republican member of the North Carolina delegation in the House voted to condemn the president Tuesday night. All three Democrats voted yes.

Touting accomplishments

On Wednesday, the House voted not to proceed with an impeachment resolution against Trump. The measure was not supported by Democratic leadership, which has resisted calls to impeach the president since taking the majority in January.

“I just heard that the U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted to kill the most ridiculous project ... the resolution, how stupid is that, on impeachment,” Trump said early in his speech.

He cited a list of accomplishments, including low unemployment numbers and passing large tax cuts and regulatory cuts.

“And they want to try and impeach, it’s a disgrace,” Trump said.

Trump thanked the Democrats who voted against impeachment.

Trump said the economy is at its highest point, with low unemployment for African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.

“By the way, North Carolina has had its best economic year in the history of your state,” Trump said.

He thanked the crowd for helping him win North Carolina, before counting off all the states he won that people expected Clinton to win.

“Remember, North Carolina was gonna be the Clinton firewall,” Trump says, mocking the polls and media.

NC Republicans join in

Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who is running for re-election in 2020, accompanied Trump on Air Force One from D.C. to Greenville. Eric Trump, the president’s son, and senior adviser Stephen Miller, a Duke graduate, also were on the trip. North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is running for governor, was among those who greeted Trump upon his arrival in Greenville.

Sen. Thom Tills waves to the crowd during a campaign rally for President Donald Trump Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

Pence visited Fort Bragg in Fayetteville earlier in the day along with Republican Rep. Richard Hudson, whose district includes the base.

Pence arrived in Greenville in time to introduce Trump, and called for North Carolinians to join their team in their fight against “radical Democrats.”

He ran through a list of accomplishments under Trump, including appointing more conservatives to the federal bench than any president in history, moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and rebuilding the military.

“The moment America becomes a socialist country is the day America ceases to be America,” Pence said. “... America will never be a socialist country.”

Vice President Mike Pence shakes hands with President Donald Trump after introducing him during a campaign rally Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

Trump called Greg Murphy, the Republican nominee in the 3rd District, and Dan Bishop, the Republican nominee in the 9th District, onto the stage. Both face special elections on Sept. 10.

Trump also mentioned North Carolina Reps. Walker and Mark Meadows.

Supporters thrilled

After the doors of Minges Coliseum closed, hundreds of people remained outside, watching on the video screen. Hundreds more filtered away.

Among them was Barbara Burke, who said just showing up made her feel good.

“At least we know we supported him,” she said, before she and her sister started for home.

Burke saw candidate Trump at a rally in Fayetteville.

“It just makes you feel like your heart is going to swell up inside you,” she said. “I love that man.”

Said Jesse McQueen, of Hamlet: “Everything he said he was going to do when he ran in 2016, he’s done it, and we need to keep him going.”

He said the most important promise to him related to the Supreme Court. “The conservative justices in the Supreme Court, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why he got my vote and that’s why he’s going to continue to get my vote.”

Also among the Trump supporters was Byron Jimenez, a native of Guatemala. Jimenez, 56, became a citizen in the 1980s and now lives in Raleigh with his wife Esther, who was born in Los Angeles after her family immigrated from Mexico.

The couple said they care more about “family values” than Trump’s immigration policy, but said they support Trump’s effort to build a wall on the southern border.

“I think they’ve got to approach it the legal way,” Jimenez said of people entering the country. He said he worries that immigrants entering the country illegally are doing so to smuggle drugs.

“This place is a blessing. This is a place we need to take care of,” he said.

Esther Jimenez said she appreciates that Trump is anti-abortion and wants to protect Americans.

“We know that Trump isn’t a sweetheart sometimes. But we’re not going for that. We’re going for what he’s teaching,” she said.

Attacks fire up protesters

Across town from the Trump rally site, a news conference held by Democrats opened with comments from Charles McLawhorn, chairman of the Pitt County Democratic Party.

“This is not Trump country,” McLawhorn said in opening remarks.

McLawhorn pointed out that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton got more Pitt County votes than Trump in the 2016 election. Clinton received 41,800 votes and Trump received 35,600.

Ahead of the rally, about 150 demonstrators were corralled behind police tape a couple hundred yards from the arena entrance.

Kate Taylor said she doesn’t agree with anything that Trump does, but was prompted to join a protest outside the arena because of his remarks about the four congresswomen.

“That just pushed me over the edge,” Taylor said.

Taylor, a professor in the Human Development and Family Science program at ECU, held a sign she had made that said, “Your Hate Will Never Make This Country Great.”

War of words

Trump has continued to comment on the congresswomen, largely on his powerful and active Twitter account, which boasts more than 62 million followers.

“I’m not relishing the fight. I’m enjoying it because I have to get the word out to the American people. And you have to enjoy what you do. I enjoy what I do. It’s not a question of relishing. They’re wrong, they’re absolutely wrong... We’re not going to be a socialist country,” Trump said before leaving the White House for North Carolina, according to pool reports.

One of Trump’s top allies in the U.S. House said the war of words is not what his constituents care about.

“This has become a political fight and it has nothing to do with policy. It has everything to do with 2020,” said Meadows, who represents far-western North Carolina. “This town pays a lot more attention to the in-fighting than the towns that I represent.”

Tillis told reporters this week that he did not see the tweets and deflected questions about the controversy. He told Politico that he does not think Trump is racist.

“I don’t think he’s racist, and no, I don’t think he’s a xenophobe. He’s got a mom and a wife who are immigrants,” said Tillis, who has been endorsed by Trump and is running for re-election in 2020.

His campaign manager Luke Blanchat, said after the rally: “Thom has been clear that the problem with Representatives Omar and Ocasio-Cortez is with their extreme views and socialist policies, not who they are. The media should be more offended by Rep. Omar’s plan to introduce a resolution embracing the antisemitic BDS movement,” referring to the movement for a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Tillis told The News & Observer that a better strategy is to focus on the country’s economic success during the Trump presidency.

“If the president, if we, continue to focus on the results that are indisputable in terms of economic growth, low unemployment, if we stay focused on that, then it’s going to bode well in North Carolina,” he said.

Meadows, too, is hoping for a return to issues.

“It’s important that we get back to dealing with the crisis at the border,” he said.

Richard Stradling and Elizabeth Thompson contributed.
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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.