(CNN) — Leaders of the Republican Party in Congress on Tuesday came to the defense of President Donald Trump amid an intense backlash to racist comments from the president suggesting that four Democratic congresswomen of color should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
“The president’s not a racist,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill, responding to a question if Trump’s comments were racist.
“I think the tone of all of this is not good for the country,” he added. “Everyone outta calm down their rhetoric, and we ought to move back to the issues.”
At the same time, McConnell criticized the Democratic congresswomen Trump had attacked with his statements.
“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,” McConnell said.
Asked about his wife Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and whether McConnell would consider an attack against her similar to the one made on the four congresswomen racist, the Kentucky Republican did not directly answer the question.
“Well, the secretary of transportation came here at age eight, legally, not speaking a word of English and has realized the American dream,” McConnell said of his wife. “I think all of us think this is a process of renewal that’s gone on in this country for a very long time and is good for America and we ought to continue it.”
At his own news conference earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, repeated comments he made Monday that the president’s remarks were not racist.
“No. And I do not believe the speaker of the House was racist either when those individuals on her side of the aisle … claimed she was racist either,” McCarthy said, flanked by other members of House GOP leadership. “I do not believe that. I believe this is about ideology.”
“I think this party has been very clear, we are the party of Lincoln. This party believes in the content of the individual. I’ve watched from our own actions,” he said, referring to the decision to strip Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, of his committee assignments following racist comments he made to The New York Times.
McCarthy also said he’ll be voting against the Democratic-backed resolution condemning the president’s tweets and suggested he was encouraging other members to vote against it as well.
“Yeah, it’s all politics,” McCarthy said at the GOP leadership press conference when asked if he’s encouraging Republicans to oppose it.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said the resolution being considered Tuesday is just “one more attempt to personally attack President Trump instead of focusing on things that can actually get this economy going.”
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the conference chair and No. 3 House Republican, argued on Tuesday that GOP opposition to Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts is about opposing their policies.
Cheney initially did not refer to the four progressive Democratic women of color by name, saying instead, “I want to make absolutely clear that our opposition to our socialist colleagues has absolutely nothing to do with their gender, with their religion, or with their race. It has to do with the content of their policies. They’re wrong when they attempt to impose the fraud of socialism on the American people.”