President Donald Trump's allies took to the airwaves Sunday to defend the president's attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color over the past week — which began with tweets saying they should "go back" and fix the countries they "originally came from" — against charges of racism.
In a heated interview with Fox host Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said he believes the term "racist" has "become a label that is too often deployed by the left, Democrats in this country, simply to try to silence and punish and suppress people they disagree with, speech that they don't want to hear."
Pressed on whether Trump has stoked racial animus, from his questioning of former President Barack Obama's birthplace to his attacks on the congresswomen, Miller said he "couldn't disagree more."
"I fundamentally disagree with the view that if you disagree with somebody and they happen to be of a different color of skin, that that makes it a racial criticism," he said. In "a color blind society," he added, someone "can criticize immigration policy, you can criticize people's views, you can ask questions about where they're born and not have it be seen as racial."
Questioned how the congresswomen's criticisms of U.S. policies were any different than Trump's past condemnations of Obama and U.S. policy in general, Miller said the president's statements were "out of love for America" while the congresswomen's were "anti-American." Trump was advocating, Miller said, for "the principles of Western civilization."
Just before the interview, Trump again ripped into the four freshmen Democratic congresswomen, calling them "weak" and "insecure."
"I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country," Trump tweeted.
Last Sunday, Trump touched off an uproar when he tweeted that the four lawmakers — who are citizens and, except for one, were born in the United States — should "go back" and try to fix the "crime infested places" they "originally came from" before telling the U.S. government how to handle its problems.
Although he did not name them in his initial tweets, Trump later made clear he was referring to Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. — collectively nicknamed "the Squad."
Omar, a Somali refugee, moved to the United States when she was 12 and is a naturalized citizen. Tlaib, a Palestinian American, was born in Michigan; Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Hispanic descent, was born in New York; and Pressley, who is African American, was born in Cincinnati.
Trump's tweets were widely criticized, with Democrats and a small number of Republicans saying they were racist. On Tuesday, the House voted to condemn those statements.
The next day, at a campaign rally in North Carolina, the racist tone of the tweets again came into focus when the crowd began chanting "send her back" after Trump went on a riff about Omar.
Although Trump initially distanced himself from the chant, he later promoted a tweet from a British pundit known for controversial remarks about Muslims and immigration, saying, "As you can see, I did nothing to lead people on, nor was I particularly happy with their chant. Just a very big and patriotic crowd. They love the USA!"
Miller was not the president's only ally to defend him Sunday. On ABC's "This Week," Trump campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp said the president "made it very clear that he disagreed with the chant, and I will tell you, he stands with those people in North Carolina across the country who support him."
"And why?" she asked. "Because they love America."
Schlapp, a former White House communications aide, added that Trump "is not a racist," and she condemned the congresswomen for remarks such as comparing detention facilities along the U.S. border with Mexico to concentration camps.
On CNN's "State of the Union," Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he wished for a "color-blind society" where debate was not "stuck inside a racial framework."
Democrats, meanwhile, blasted the president as a racist.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, said Trump is "worse than a racist."
"We have a demagogue, fear-mongering person who is using race to divide," he said on "State of the Union." "This is a referendum not on him, it's actually a referendum on the heart and soul of our country."
House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the president's comments have brought up "the same feelings that I had over 50 some years ago" as a civil rights activist.
"And it's very, very painful," Cummings told "This Week." "I just don't think this is becoming of the president of the United States of America, the leader of the entire world."
Cummings defended the four congresswomen as "some of the most brilliant young people I have met," adding that they " love their country, and they work very hard and they want to move us toward a more perfect union that our founding fathers talked about."
Asked if Trump is a racist, Cummings said, "Yes, no doubt about it," adding, "I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt."