McConnell says Trump is 'not a racist' and calls for Washington to 'tone down' rhetoric

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he doesn’t believe Donald Trump is a racist despite the president’s calls for four Democratic lawmakers to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.”

Because Trump’s comments have further widened Washington’s partisan divide, McConnell was asked to comment on them during his weekly press conference.

“The president’s not a racist,” McConnell said. “And I think the tone of all of this is not good for the country. But it’s coming from all ideological points of view. To single out any segment of this I think is a mistake.”

McConnell called on Trump as well as his Democratic critics to soften their rhetoric.

“From the president to the speaker to freshman members of the House, all of us have a responsibility to elevate the public discourse,” McConnell said. “Our words do matter. We all know politics is a contact sport, but it’s about time we lowered the temperature all across the board.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at his side in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, center, First Lady-elect Melania Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, right, exit after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Trump's first visit to Washington since winning the Nov. 8 election is a key step toward bridging the nation's painful divisions before he takes the oath of office in January. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (2ndL), U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (2nd R), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R) and other congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at his side in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leave after their joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
US President-elect Donald Trump gives the thumbs up after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on November 10, 2016. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrive to speak to the media in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at his side in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 10: President-elect Donald Trump (L) walks from a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) at the U.S. Capitol November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day president-elect Trump met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 10: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L), walks with President-elect Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day president-elect Trump met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (L) Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (3rd L) House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (3rd R), Vice President Mike Pence (2nd L) and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R) during a reception with Congressional leaders on January 23, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump smiles during a reception with Congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (2nd L) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (3rd L), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (R) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on January 23, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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The war of words between Trump and Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — known as “the Squad” — began after the president weighed in on an ongoing feud over a border funding deal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made with Senate Republicans and moderate House Democrats. Ocasio-Cortez accused Pelosi of “singling out” women of color after the speaker dismissed the influence of the Squad. The infighting gave Trump an opening.

“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, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, 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,” his thread continued. “Then come back and show us how it is done.”

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WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump take the stage on July 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is holding a "Salute to America" celebration on the National Mall on Independence Day this year with musical performances, a military flyover, and fireworks. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump take the stage on July 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is holding a "Salute to America" celebration on the National Mall on Independence Day this year with musical performances, a military flyover, and fireworks. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump gives First Lady Melania Trump a kiss as he arrives to speak at the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by Susan Walsh / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read SUSAN WALSH/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence applaud during the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump take the stage on July 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is holding a "Salute to America" celebration on the National Mall on Independence Day this year with musical performances, a military flyover, and fireworks. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Guest cheer as US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive for the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive for the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump take the stage on July 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is holding a "Salute to America" celebration on the National Mall on Independence Day this year with musical performances, a military flyover, and fireworks. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Guest cheer as US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive for the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump take the stage on July 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is holding a "Salute to America" celebration on the National Mall on Independence Day this year with musical performances, a military flyover, and fireworks. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper (R), among others, watch as the US Navy Blue Angels flyover during the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by Susan Walsh / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read SUSAN WALSH/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper (R), among others, watch as the US Navy Blue Angels flyover during the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by Susan Walsh / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read SUSAN WALSH/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and First Lady Melania Trump walk onstage during the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C-L) and First Lady Melania Trump stand onstage with others during the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence and Tiffany Trump watch as military aircraft fly over during the "Salute to America" ceremony in front of the Lincoln Memorial, on July 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. The presentation featured armored vehicles on display, a flyover by Air Force One, and several flyovers by other military aircraft. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence and Tiffany Trump listen as President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the "Salute to America" ceremony in front of the Lincoln Memorial, on July 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. The presentation featured armored vehicles on display, a flyover by Air Force One, and several flyovers by other military aircraft. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump exit after the "Salute to America" ceremony in front of the Lincoln Memorial, on July 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. The presentation features armored vehicles on display, a flyover by Air Force One, and several flyovers by other military aircraft. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence stand on stage after President Donald Trump spoke at the "Salute to America" ceremony in front of the Lincoln Memorial, on July 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. The presentation featured armored vehicles on display, a flyover by Air Force One, and several flyovers by other military aircraft. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
US First Lady Melania Trump (C) is escorted to the stage during the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) and First Lady Melania Trump leave after attending the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) and First Lady Melania Trump leave after attending the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) and US First Lady Melania Trump arrive for the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive at the "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to "Salute to America" Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib were all born in the U.S. Omar became a citizen in 2000 after immigrating from Somalia.

Though Trump declared that Pelosi was “not a racist” during her clash with the four freshman lawmakers, the speaker rebuked the president’s call for them to leave the U.S., stating that his tweet “reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again.”

Trump denied charges that his tweets were racist. “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” he tweeted Tuesday.

“You’re right, Mr. President,” Ocasio-Cortez responded. “You don’t have a racist bone in your body. You have a racist mind in your head, and a racist heart in your chest.”

McConnell said the “political rhetoric has really gotten way, way overheated all across the political spectrum,” then directed his criticisms at Democrats. “We’ve seen the far left throw accusations of racism at everyone, anyone who disagrees with them on anything, including the speaker of the House,” he said.

When asked if he would consider it a racist attack if his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — who is a naturalized citizen — was told to go back to her native country of Taiwan, McConnell dodged the question by noting that his wife came to the country “at age 8, legally, not speaking a word of English and has realized the American dream.”

“The new people who come here have a lot of ambition, a lot of energy, tend to do very well and invigorate our country, and my wife’s a good example of that,” he said. “I’m a big fan of legal immigration.”

When asked if Trump would “tone down his rhetoric” if Republicans, who were slow to respond to the attacks, more forcefully spoke out against them, McConnell said, “I think everybody ought to tone down their rhetoric. We have examples of that across the ideological spectrum in the country.”

But perhaps no one in Washington was a greater example of that than Trump, who, during a Made in America showcase on the South Lawn of the White House Monday, said that the freshman congresswomen “hate our country” and that “they are free to leave if they want.”

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