WASHINGTON — In a remarkable political repudiation, the Democratic-led U.S. 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 U.S.A. — Democrats muscled the resolution through the chamber by 240-187 over near-solid GOP opposition. The rebuke 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 Reps. 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 Rep. 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 Rep. 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.
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 Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, Republicans moved to have her words stricken from the record, a rare procedural rebuke.
After a delay exceeding 90 minutes, No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Pelosi had indeed violated a House rule against characterizing an action as racist. Hoyer was presiding after Rep. 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 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 he 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.
Hours earlier, Trump tweeted, “Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” He wrote that House Republicans should “not show ‘weakness’” by agreeing to a resolution he labeled “a Democrat con game.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, one of Trump’s four targets, returned his fire.
“You’re right, Mr. President – 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,” she tweeted.
The four-page Democratic resolution said the House “strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour.” It said Trump’s slights “do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.”
All but goading Republicans, the resolution included a full page of remarks by President Ronald Reagan, who is revered by the GOP. Reagan said in 1989 that if the U.S. shut its doors to newcomers, “our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”
Tuesday’s faceoff came after years of Democrats bristling over anti-immigrant and racially incendiary pronouncements by Trump. Those include his kicking off his presidential campaign by proclaiming many Mexican migrants to be criminals and asserting there were “fine people” on both sides at a 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly.
And the strong words in Washington come as actions are underway elsewhere: The administration has begun coast-to-coast raids targeting migrants in the U.S. illegally and has newly restricted access to the U.S. by asylum seekers.
Trump’s criticism was aimed at four freshman Democrats who have garnered attention since their arrival in January for their outspoken liberal views and thinly veiled distaste for Trump: Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who came to the U.S. as a child after fleeing Somalia with her family.
The four have waged an increasingly personal clash with Pelosi over how assertively the House should try restraining Trump’s ability to curb immigration. But if anything, Trump’s tweets may have eased some of that tension, with Pelosi telling Democrats at a closed-door meeting Tuesday, “We are offended by what he said about our sisters,” according to an aide who described the private meeting on condition of anonymity.
That’s not to say that all internal Democratic strains are resolved.
The four rebellious freshmen backed Rep. Steven Cohen of Tennessee in unsuccessfully seeking a House to vote on a harsher censure of Trump’s tweets. And Rep. Al Green of Texas was trying to force a House vote soon on whether to impeach Trump — a move he’s tried in the past but lost, earning opposition from most Democrats.
At the Senate Republicans’ weekly lunch Tuesday, Trump’s tweets came up and some lawmakers were finding the situation irksome, participants said. Many want the 2020 campaigns to focus on progressive Democrats’ demands for government-provided health care, abolishing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and other hard-left policies.
“Those ideas give us so much material to work with and it takes away from our time to talk about it,” Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said of Trump’s tweets.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller, Jonathan Lemire and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
Alan Fram And Darlene Superville, The Associated Press
When Paul Njoroge gets on an airplane, he becomes fixated on the first few minutes after takeoff.
“I have to look at my watch and see when I reach the 6-minute mark,” Njoroge says. That is the length of time that a Boeing 737 Max carrying his wife, three young children and mother-in-law was airborne before plunging back to Earth in a field in Ethiopia, killing everyone on board.
“I think about my family every minute of my life,” he says. “When I’m flying, I cannot even dare to sleep because I’m thinking about them. I dread going back into a plane.”
Still, Njoroge (ja-ROW-ga) will fly to Washington to testify Wednesday before a congressional panel that is examining aviation safety after two deadly accidents involving Boeing’s bestselling plane. He will be accompanied by Michael Stumo, whose daughter, Samya, also died in the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash.
The Boeing Max has been grounded worldwide since shortly after that crash and it’s not clear when it will be certified to fly again.
In testimony prepared for the hearing, Njoroge and other families of the 346 people who died in the accidents will demand that regulators perform a new, top-to-bottom review of the plane. They’ll also call for airline pilots to get training in flight simulators — Boeing says computer-based lessons will suffice — and that Congress reform the Federal Aviation Administration, which certified the plane and declined to ground it after the first accident last October off the coast of Indonesia.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Njoroge went further, saying Boeing should scrap the plane and company executives should resign and face criminal charges.
If Boeing and the FAA had done their jobs properly, he said, “these planes would have been grounded in November and today I would be enjoying summer with my family, I would be playing football with my son.”
Because the size and placement of the plane’s engines raised the risk of an aerodynamic stall, Boeing devised flight-control software called MCAS. Preliminary reports indicate that the software pushed the nose of the plane down in both crashes, and Boeing is working on changes to make MCAS more reliable and easier to control.
Boeing did not tell pilots about MCAS until after the Oct. 29 crash of a Lion Air Max. Njoroge believes the company hid the existence of the software to cover up what he considers an irredeemable flaw that MCAS was designed to offset — the plane’s tendency to pitch nose-up in some conditions.
“I’d like to see (Boeing CEO) Dennis Muilenburg and the executives resign, because they caused the deaths of 346 people,” Njoroge said. “They should be held liable criminally for the deaths of my wife and my children and my mom-in-law and 152 others in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 because that was preventable.”
Chicago-based Boeing said it lamented the impact that the crashes are having on families of those on board.
“These incidents and the lives lost will continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and on our minds for years to come,” the company said in a statement. “We are committed to working with the communities, customers and the aviation industry to help with the healing process.”
Njoroge, 35, was born in Kenya and now lives in Toronto, where he works as an investment professional. A Chicago aviation lawyer, Robert Clifford, sued Boeing on his behalf over the deaths of his wife, Carol, his son and daughters, 6-year-old Ryan, 4-year-old Kelli and 9-month-old Rubi, and his wife’s mother.
They were on their way to visit family in Kenya when the Nairobi-bound plane crashed.
Njoroge accused Boeing of trying to shift blame to foreign pilots in Indonesia and Ethiopia to avoid grounding the Max, which he called “utter prejudice.”
After the Lion Air crash, Boeing issued a bulletin to pilots reminding them about Boeing instructions for responding when the airplane automatically forces the nose down. After the Ethiopian crash, Muilenburg said the pilots did not completely follow the procedures. The preliminary report indicated the Ethiopian pilots tried the procedures nearly until the end but could not save the plane, and they were flying extremely fast.
Muilenburg has repeatedly apologized in public to families of the passengers. Njoroge said he has not received personal condolences.
“It would be very important if Boeing executives can meet with the family members in person and apologize to them,” he said. “That would help.”
Njoroge has not returned to work since the accident and doesn’t know when — or if — he ever will.
“I’ve been trying to restructure my life, but I don’t know how to do it,” he said. “Every aspect of life today is a reminder that I’m alone now. It’s painful.”
Wednesday’s hearing will be the House aviation panel’s third on the Max. Other witnesses will include representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board and unions representing pilots, flight attendants, airline mechanics and safety inspectors.
The jet’s grounding is meanwhile having an impact on airlines around the world, with Europe’s busiest carrier, Ryanair, saying Tuesday it will cut flights and close some bases beginning this winter because of the delay to deliveries of the Boeing planes. It expects the Max jets to be back in service before the end of the year, though the date is uncertain.
American Airlines and United Airlines this month both said they will keep the Boeing 737 Max plane off their schedule until Nov. 3, leading to flight cancellations.
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