House vote condemns Trump’s tweets, draws some GOP support

WASHINGTON (AP) – In a remarkable political repudiation, the Democratic-led United States (US) House voted to condemn President Donald Trump’s “racist comments” against four congresswomen of colour, despite protestations by Trump’s Republican congressional allies and his own insistence he hasn’t “a racist bone in my body”.

Two days after Trump tweeted that four Democratic freshmen should “go back” to their home countries — though all are citizens and three were born in the USA — Democrats muscled the resolution through the chamber by 240-187 over near-solid GOP opposition. The rebuke on Tuesday night was an embarrassing one for Trump even though it carries no legal repercussions, but if anything his latest harangues should help him with his die-hard conservative base.

Despite a lobbying effort by Trump and party leaders for a unified GOP front, four Republicans voted to condemn his remarks: moderate Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Will Hurd of Texas and Susan Brooks of Indiana, who is retiring. Also backing the measure was Michigan’s independent Representative Justin Amash, who left the GOP this month after becoming the party’s sole member of Congress to back a Trump impeachment inquiry.

Democrats saved one of the day’s most passionate moments until near the end. “I know racism when I see it,” said Representative John Lewis of Georgia, whose skull was fractured at the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. “At the highest level of government, there’s no room for racism.”

Before the showdown roll call, Trump characteristically plunged forward with time-tested insults. He accused his four outspoken critics of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician” and added, “If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!” — echoing taunts long unleashed against political dissidents rather than opposing parties’ lawmakers.

The president was joined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and other top Republicans in trying to redirect the focus from Trump’s original tweets, which for three days have consumed Washington and drawn widespread condemnation. Instead, they tried playing offence by accusing the four congresswomen — among the Democrats’ most left-leaning members and ardent Trump critics — of socialism, an accusation that’s already a central theme of the GOP’s 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.

President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. – AP

Even after two-and-a-half years of Trump’s turbulent governing style, the spectacle of a president futilely labouring to head off a House vote essentially proclaiming him to be a racist was extraordinary.

Underscoring the stakes, Republicans formally objected after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said during a floor speech that Trump’s tweets were “racist”. Led by Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, Republicans moved to have her words stricken from the record, a rare procedural rebuke.

After a delay exceeding 90 minutes, number two House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Pelosi had indeed violated a House rule against characterising an action as racist. Hoyer was presiding after Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri stormed away from the presiding officer’s chair, lamenting, “We want to just fight,” apparently aimed at Republicans. Even so, Democrats flexed their muscle and the House voted afterward by party line to leave Pelosi’s words intact in the record.

In tweets on Tuesday night, Trump took a positive view of the vote, saying it was “so great” that only four Republicans had crossed party lines and noting the procedural rebuke of Pelosi. “Quite a day!” he wrote.

Some rank-and-file GOP lawmakers have agreed that Trump’s words were racist, but on Tuesday party leaders insisted they were not and accused Democrats of using the resulting tumult to score political points. Among the few voices of restraint, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump wasn’t racist, but also called on leaders “from the president to the speaker to the freshman members of the House” to attack ideas, not the people who espouse them.

“There’s been a consensus that political rhetoric has gotten way, way heated across the political spectrum,” said the Republican leader from Kentucky, breaking his own two days of silence on Trump’s attacks.