Washington • Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Monday that President Donald Trump’s racist attacks on four minority Democratic members of Congress were “destructive” and “demeaning” and fell short of unifying rhetoric befitting of the nation’s highest office.
Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, said Trump's tweet was “offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds.”
Other members of Utah's delegation's response? Silence.
“Over the last several days, there has been a lot of back and forth in Washington from two different sides, but I want to make something very clear, which is that the president has a unique and noble calling to unite the American people,” Romney told reporters at the Capitol on Monday afternoon.
“To call on all people of different races, and colors, and national origins to come together in a unified way, and in that regard, the president failed badly this weekend, and continues to do so. Look, it’s important for the president to bring us together and that’s not what’s happening, and I know that in Washington the rhetoric is hot, but my goodness, we expect more of the president. We expect the kind of leadership that is associated with the highest office in the land.”
Romney refused to say whether he thought the tweet was racist, but said it was “destructive, was demeaning, was disunifying and frankly was very wrong.”
Later in a tweet, Romney added: “People can disagree over politics and policy, but telling American citizens to go back to where they came from is over the line.”
McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, also harshly criticized the president but stopped short of calling his remarks racist.
“The president’s tweet was offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds. Divisiveness is wrong and distracts from our work for the American people,” McAdams said. “The more time we spend talking about offensive tweets from politicians the less time we spend finding solutions. Our country has serious challenges and I intend to spend my time working with sincere policymakers from both parties to find solutions."
A spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, declined to comment Monday.
The offices for Utah's other GOP members of Congress – Reps. Rob Bishop, John Curtis and Chris Stewart – didn't respond to requests for comment.
Former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was highly critical of Trump while in office and since, tweeted that it was the duty of his fellow Republicans to stand up.
“I’ve often said that Republican elected officials can’t be expected to respond to every comment by the President,” Flake wrote. “But there are times when the President's comments are so vile and offensive that it is incumbent on Republicans to respond and condemn. This is one of those times.”
That said, Republicans find themselves in a tight spot. If they criticize the president they could be seen as anti-Trump and hurt their own standing among their conservative base. If they defend him, they could be seen as sharing his views.
“It’s a direct result of Trump’s popularity with the GOP base,” said Doug Heye, a former communication director of the Republican National Committee who is now a CNN commentator. “If you want to play Trump’s game, you’ve got to back him up.”
Romney is one of a few Republicans who have responded to Trump’s comments while Democrats have been up in arms over what they see as a racist trope. The House plans a vote to condemn Trump’s remarks.
Romney spoke after Trump stepped up on his fiery rhetoric aimed at four Democratic House members who have banded together to push their party to the left.
The president tweeted Sunday that the four women — whom he didn’t name — should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
The four women appeared to be Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Three of them were born in America and Omar is a naturalized citizen.
While Democrats and even a few Republicans criticized Trump’s remarks, he didn’t back down.
“When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said. So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!” Trump tweeted.
Monday, appearing at an event billed as a celebration of products made in America, Trump pushed back on whether his comments were racist.
“Not at all,” he said. “If somebody has a problem with our country, if someone doesn’t want to be in our country, they should leave.”