WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Thursday disavowed the "send her back" chant that broke out at his re-election rally Wednesday night when he railed against a Somali-born lawmaker.
Trump said he was "not happy" with the chant, directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a freshman Democrat whom the president has criticized repeatedly. On Thursday he said he had tried to cut off the chant. Asked why he did not stop it, Trump said, "I think I did -- I started speaking very quickly."
Video from the event showed that Trump looked around and paused as the crowd began to chant.
"I was not happy with it," Trump said Thursday at the White House. "I disagree with it.
"I didn't say that," he added. "They did."
Trump, though taking issue with the chant, didn't back away Thursday from his criticism of Omar and three other female Democratic lawmakers.
They have "a big obligation and the obligation is to love your country," he said. "There's such hatred. They have such hatred."
Trump's allies had warned privately that the president was on dangerous ground, according to people briefed on the conversations.
Among them were House Republican leaders, who pleaded with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday morning to separate the party from the message embraced by the crowd in Greenville, N.C.
"That does not need to be our campaign call, like we did the 'lock her up' last time," said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., a top official in the party's messaging arm, who attended the rally and tweeted hours later that he had "struggled" with the chant. "We cannot be defined by this."
Still, while they denounced the chant, Republican leaders declined to criticize Trump.
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that Omar and the three other female Democratic lawmakers should "go back" to their countries.
"Those chants have no place in our party or our country," Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, told reporters.
Earlier Thursday, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, chairman of the House Republican campaign arm, repudiated the chant but insisted that the Twitter posts that inspired the slogan had been mere mistakes of wording.
"There's no place for that kind of talk," Emmer said at a breakfast with reporters in Washington where he was asked about the chant. "I don't agree with that.
"There's not a racist bone in the president's body," Emmer added, referring to Trump's tweets. "What he was trying to say, he said wrong."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that it's time to "lower the rhetoric" about racism.
Still, Trump's inner circle urged him to quickly repudiate the chant. Ivanka Trump, his daughter and senior adviser, talked to the president about it Thursday morning, people familiar with the discussions said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge them.
Omar, a Somali refugee who is one of the first two Muslim women elected to the House, called Trump a "fascist" but said there was nothing new about his behavior or the response of his supporters.
She cited his years of false claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
"He does that every single day, and it's no different," Omar said at the Capitol. "What I'm going to be busy doing is uplifting people, and making sure they understand: Here in this country we are all Americans, we are all welcome, irregardless of what he says."
Walker said he had raised the issue with Pence at a breakfast Thursday, saying the chant was "something that we want to address early" before it became a staple of the president's rallies. "We felt like this was going to be part of our discussion, to make sure that we are not defined by that."
At least one civil-rights group, Muslim Advocates, said Wednesday that Trump's tweets and language were endangering the lives of Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., the other Muslim woman elected to Congress in November.
"The president's open, calculated, anti-Muslim bigotry is something we expect to see much more of throughout the 2020 campaign," Madihha Ahussain, the group's special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry, said in a statement. "All Americans, including all Democrats and Republicans, should unequivocally and immediately disavow this hatred."
Emmer tried to minimize the president's initial remarks.
"What he was trying to say is that if you don't appreciate this country, you don't have to be here," Emmer said. He quoted a constituent who told him that Omar's statements led people to believe that she hated America, adding, "How about a little gratitude with that attitude?"
The latest criticism of Trump's language comes two days after the House passed a resolution condemning his tweets and asserting that they were "racist comments that legitimized and increased hatred of new Americans and people of color." Four Republicans voted yes.
Information for this article was contributed by Alan Fram, Darlene Superville, Padmananda Rama, Zeke Miller, Deb Reichmann and Matthew Dal of The Associated Press.
Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota speaks to supporters Thursday as she arrives at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport after earlier calling Trump a “fascist.”
A Section on 07/19/2019
Print Headline: 'Not happy' with 'send her back chant,' Trump says