House Push to Condemn Trump’s Language as Racist Stirs Brawl

WASHINGTON — A House Democratic effort on Tuesday to formally denounce comments by President Trump devolved into a partisan brawl on the House floor as Republicans tried and failed to stop Speaker Nancy Pelosi from calling the president a racist.

Mr. Trump on Tuesday denied that his tweets suggesting that four minority congresswomen leave the country were racist and implored House Republicans to reject a resolution that condemns his statements as “racist comments that have legitimized increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

The president raged on Twitter against the resolution, calling it a “con game.” He renewed his harsh criticism of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

“Those Tweets were NOT Racist,” Mr. Trump wrote. “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game. Republicans should not show ‘weakness’ and fall into their trap.”

But Democrats powered through parliamentary blockades and protests toward a vote on the resolution, scheduled for Tuesday evening, which developed into a show of unity for Democrats and a test of Republican principles.

In a closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Tuesday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California called the four freshman congresswomen “our sisters,” and said the insults to which Mr. Trump subjected them echo hurtful and offensive remarks he makes every day.

“So this is a resolution based in who we are as a people, as well as a recognition of the unacceptability of what his goals were,” Ms. Pelosi told Democrats, according to an aide present for the private meeting who described her remarks on condition of anonymity. “This is, I hope, one where we will get Republican support. If they can’t support condemning the words of the president, well, that’s a message in and of itself.”

A smattering of Republicans have denounced the president’s performance, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. Mr. Trump’s comments “were shameful, they were racist,” he told WBUR in Boston, “and they bring a tremendous amount of, sort of, disgrace to public policy and public life and I condemn them all.”

But Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader and a close ally of the president’s, said he would oppose the resolution, and when asked whether Mr. Trump’s tweets were racist, replied flatly, “No.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, did say lawmakers from all ends of the political spectrum should tone down their rhetoric, but he added, emphatically, “The president is not a racist.”

Earlier, Mr. Trump attempted to shift the focus to what he called “HORRIBLE” things said by the four liberal freshmen congresswomen, who have been among the most outspoken in their party in their criticisms of him, including at a news conference on Monday where they described Mr. Trump as racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and criminal.

“This should be a vote on the filthy language, statements and lies told by the Democrat Congresswomen, who I truly believe, based on their actions, hate our Country,” Mr. Trump wrote.

His latest broadside against the women comes hours before the House is poised to vote on a resolution that responds directly to his nativist tweets on Sunday telling the lawmakers — all but one of whom was born in the United States — to “go back” to their countries. The measure is a chance for Democrats to go on offense, and put Republicans on the record either rejecting or endorsing what the president said.

While some Democrats are pressing for a stronger resolution of censure, House leaders have opted instead for a narrower measure based on Mr. Trump’s latest remarks, in an effort to generate a unanimous vote in their party.

“Let’s focus on these comments that the vast majority of Americans recognize to be divisive and racist, that the vast majority of my Republican colleagues, in their hearts, recognize to be divisive and racist,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey, the sponsor of the resolution.

“We need to move forward with something that can be unifying, and right now, what we can unite around is that what the president said was wrong, un-American, and dangerous.”

During the meeting on Tuesday, Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts and the chairman of the Rules Committee, warned members to take care with their language during the debate, including checking with the official in charge of enforcing floor procedures to make sure their speeches would not violate House rules against making personal references to the president on the floor.

Ms. Pelosi advised Democrats to focus on how Mr. Trump’s “words were racist,” which would keep them in compliance with the rules.

While the vote is symbolic and nonbinding, the debate is certain dramatize the conflict between Democrats and a president who has organized his agenda and his re-election campaign around stoking racial controversy, and casting the group of progressive stars as dangerous extremists to be feared.

Among other things, the resolution declares that the House “believes that immigrants and their descendants have made America stronger,” that “those who take the oath of citizenship are every bit as American as those whose families have lived in the United States for many generations,” and that the House “is committed to keeping America open to those lawfully seeking refuge and asylum from violence and oppression, and those who are willing to work hard to live the American Dream, no matter their race, ethnicity, faith, or country of origin.”

Republican leaders signaled on Tuesday that they would seek to shift the debate from the president’s incendiary remarks to the policies espoused by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues.

“I want to make absolutely clear that our opposition to our socialist colleagues has absolutely nothing to do with their gender, with their religion or with their race,” said Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican.

While Mr. Trump’s comments have helped to paper over divisions among Democrats over how aggressively to confront him, the resolution itself prompted more rifts. Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, introduced a resolution of censure, endorsed by the squad among others, and said it would be “more appropriate” for the House to pass that than the measure scheduled for a vote on Tuesday.

“Censure would put him in the class with Andrew Jackson, which is where he wants to be and we should put him where he wants to be, with a president who was racist, who had slaves and led the Trail of Tears,” Mr. Cohen said.

“We have a different way of doing things,” Mr. Cohen added. “I’m not worried about getting Republicans. I think we ought to do what’s right.”

Democratic leaders deflected questions on Tuesday about the strength of the resolution and sought to shift pressure onto Republicans to reject Mr. Trump’s statements.

“We are hopeful that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle would put country ahead of party, would put decency ahead of Donald Trump,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the No. 5 House Democrat, told reporters.

Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

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