By Hazel Trice Edney,
The U. S. House of Representatives, this week, voted to condemn as racist, remarks made by President Donald Trump after he tweeted Sunday morning that four women of color in the House of Representatives should “go back” to “the crime infested places from which they came.”
He was speaking of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – all Americans and all of whom have called for Trump’s impeachment.
The vote by the majority Democratic House is the first time members of Congress have taken a unified stance against the racist postures and outrageous language used by Trump. The Democrats were joined by four Republicans and one Independent in the 240-187 vote.
Civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) was among the members issuing strong rebukes toward to the president from the House floor. From the standpoint of his civil rights experience, Lewis not only identified the remarks as racist, but also described the impact of those kinds of words when coming from the president of the United States.
“I rise with a sense of righteous indignation to support this resolution. I know racism when I see it. I know racism when I feel it. And [in] the highest level of government, there’s no room for racism,” Lewis said. “It sows the seeds of violence and destroys the hopes and dreams of people. The world is watching. They are shocked and dismayed because it seems we have lost our way as a nation, as a proud and great people. We are one Congress. And we are here to serve one house, the American House, the American people.”
Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress have defended his words, staunchly claiming that neither he; nor his words are racist. The Trump tweets continued this week, saying “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!” Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California echoed his denial.
But Lewis, a veteran target of racist language, said the “go back” insult is steeped in white supremacist history from the Civil Rights Movement when segregationists became angry at protestors’ attempts to bring justice.
“As a nation and as a people, we need to go forward and not backward,” Lewis said. “With this vote, we stand with our sisters – three were born in America and one came here looking for a better life. With this vote, we meet our moral obligation to condition hate, racism and bigotry in every form.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, avoiding calling Trump himself a racist, declared his words to be “disgraceful and disgusting, and those comments are racist…How shameful to hear him continue to defend those offensive words – words that we have all heard him repeat, not only about our members, but about countless others.”
The stance by the House of Representatives comes at what appears to be a tipping point following a string of shocking statements from Trump as President of the United States during his first three years. Among the most memorable were his statements that a clash between white supremacists and civil rights protestors in Charlottesville had “very fine people on both sides.” He also publicly referred to members of the National Football League protesting police brutality as “sons of b**ches.”
A fight ensued over Pelosi’s use of the word racist. Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) motioned to have her words stricken from the record, a rare move that held up the debate for more than an hour while the House parliamentarian decided whether the use of that particular word violated standards of decorum for the House chamber.
House Parliamentarian Thomas J. Wickham Jr. ruled that Pelosi’s words had indeed violated protocol according to precedent. But – given the anomaly of Trumpism – the Congress overruled the parliamentarian. Trump’s remarks were official condemned as racist.
The four Republicans who voted to condemn were Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, who is the only black Republican in the House; Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania; Susan Brooks of Indiana; and Fred Upton of Michigan. Michigan Independent Rep. Justin Amash, who recently resigned from the Republican Party, also voted for it.
As fellow house members, pundits and political observers defended the four women; they also defended themselves at a news conference on Monday.
Ocasio-Cortez said, “We don’t leave the things that we love, and when we love this country, what that means is that we propose the solutions to fix it.” She said Trump attacks “us personally” because he doesn’t know how to defend his own policies.
Omar said Trump was advocating “the agenda of white nationalists” in his verbal assaults on the four members of Congress, comments during the Charlottesville rally, as well as his verbal assaults on the NFL players and other women of color.
Tlaib repeated her calls for Trump’s impeachment. Pressley only warned her fellow Congressional representatives as well as the general public to not “take the bait” that Trump throws out with his attacks. She indicates that it’s like red meat to fire up his ultra conservative base.
Pelosi, who had been in a rift with the four women, immediately jumped to defend them from the Trump tweets. She tweeted that it is clear that when Trump “tells four American congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again.” Pelosi concluded, “Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.”