(CN) – President Donald Trump said Thursday he did not approve of a rally crowd chanting “send her back” after he slammed a Democratic congresswoman of color, claiming he tried to stop it despite video from the rally showing him pausing and taking in the uproar.
“Send her back” was a fresh chant added Wednesday night to the usual call-and-response refrain of Trump’s campaign rallies, prompting outrage about the phrase’s racist implications after a week of similarly controversial tweets by the president.
Trump’s comments during a packed rally in Greenville, North Carolina, about Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., came the day after the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning as racist his Sunday Twitter attacks on Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen of color.
“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… how our government is to be run,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Known as “the squad,” the women include Omar, who was born in Somalia but came to the U.S. at age 12 and is now an American citizen; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who is of Puerto Rican descent and was born in the Bronx; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, a black congresswoman originally from Cincinnati; and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a Muslim born in Detroit.
On Wednesday night, many rally-goers started chanting “send her back” as Trump was listing a number of complaints about Omar. Video from the rally shows him pausing to take in the chants and not admonishing his supporters.
The day after the rally, Trump tried to distance himself from the three-word chant, but did not appear to have changed his stance on Omar or walk back his racist tweets.
“I think I did. I started speaking very quickly,” Trump said Thursday in response to questions from reporters about why he did nothing to stop the chant. “I was not happy with it. I disagree with it.”
The president also said those who attended his rally are “people who love our country.”
Tory Rose Harris from Newbern, North Carolina, protested Wednesday’s rally alongside 20-year-old Bekah Shimer of Greenville.
Harris, who is vice president of the College Democrats at East Carolina University, spoke out against state Representative Greg Murphy — a candidate for North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District who Harris says employs rhetoric about things like socialism in a Trump-like manner. Of the four women in “the squad,” Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib both identify as democratic socialists.
“America is kind of throwing the term socialism around, but many do it without recognizing what socialism is,” Harris told said in an interview.
But John Laub, an Army veteran and Trump supporter who attended Wednesday’s rally, said he is most enthused by the president’s promise of tax cuts and his plan for jobs and the border.
He said he appreciates the president’s outspoken opposition against Democrats, who Laub says have accomplished nothing.
“He’s got the Democrats so confused, they’re fighting amongst themselves now,” Laub said in an interview.