WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump is facing criticism from Republican lawmakers following his comments over the weekend that immigrants coming to the U.S. are "poisoning the blood of our country."
"It strikes me that it didn’t bother him when he appointed Elaine Chao secretary of transportation," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. McConnell is married to Chao, who immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan as a child.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called the comments “horrible.”
“I thought that was horrible, that those comments are — just have no place, particularly from a former president,” she told reporters. “So they’re deplorable.”
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., added that he disagrees with Trump’s "unacceptable rhetoric."
"I think that that rhetoric is very inappropriate, but this administration’s policies are feeding right into it. And so I disagree with that. I think we should celebrate our diversity," said Rounds, who had endorsed Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., for president before he dropped out.
“But unfortunately, that type of rhetoric is what happens when you don’t have a border policy that works. And it just simply feeds that type of poor, unacceptable rhetoric,” he added.
Asked about the Republican criticism, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said the former president "has by far the most Senate endorsements in this race, people who are fighters and want to Make America Great Again."
“They let — I think the real number is 15, 16 million people into our country. When they do that, we got a lot of work to do. They’re poisoning the blood of our country,” Trump said Saturday. “That’s what they’ve done. They poison mental institutions and prisons all over the world, not just in South America, not just to three or four countries that we think about, but all over the world. They’re coming into our country from Africa, from Asia, all over the world.”
The former president doubled down on the remark at a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, on Tuesday night. Referring to illegal border crossings, Trump repeatedly said "They are destroying the blood of our country.”
Presidential candidate and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used Trump's earlier comment as ammunition to target his rival.
"He’s disgusting, and what he’s doing is dog-whistling to Americans who feel absolutely under stress and strain from the economy and from the conflicts around the world, and he's dog-whistling it to blame it on people from areas that don’t look like us," Christie said on CNN.
The GOP criticism comes after the Biden campaign quickly compared Trump's comments to Adolf Hitler, who also used "blood poisoning" language in his manifesto "Mein Kampf."
Biden campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa said over the weekend that Trump “channeled his role models as he parroted Adolf Hitler, praised Kim Jong Un, and quoted Vladimir Putin while running for president on a promise to rule as a dictator and threaten American democracy.”
Trump brushed off the criticism on Tuesday, saying “I never read Mein Kampf.”
Some Republicans have been dismissive of the criticism surrounding Trump's comments.
"We’re talking about language. I could care less what language people use as long as we get it right," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Similarly, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York defended Trump in a CNN interview, arguing that she thinks he was "talking about the Democratic policies."
"I know that some are trying to make it seem like President Trump is, is anti-immigrant," Malliotakis said. "The reality is, he was married to immigrants, he's hired immigrants."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a presidential candidate, did not condemn the comments in a clip aired Monday by Fox News.
"I don't know what this means with the blood stuff," DeSantis said. "I know people are trying to draw historical allusions. I don't know if that's what he meant."