WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's racially charged taunt that four congresswomen of color "go back" to the "places from which they came" has unified Democrats just as they were facing one of their most serious fractures since taking control of the House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Monday that the House will vote on a resolution condemning "the president's xenophobic tweets." The resolution is being drafted by House Democrats who were born abroad, including Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), who was born in communist Poland and moved to central New Jersey when he was 6 years old.
"Our caucus will continue to forcefully respond to these disgusting attacks," Pelosi wrote in a letter to fellow lawmakers. "The House cannot allow the president's characterization of immigrants to our country to stand."
A group of four high-profile progressive House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been at odds in recent weeks over the direction of the House majority, including a recent border spending bill. For weeks progressives viewed as Pelosi pandering to more politically vulnerable moderates in the caucus.
But Trump on Sunday all but put an end to the drama by tweeting that the "'progressive' Democrat Congresswomen" — all U.S. citizens and three American-born — should return to the countries they "originally came from."
Trump did not directly name the four lawmakers, but House Democrats widely interpreted it as a slam against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). The four, all women of color, had dubbed themselves "the squad" and have advocated for more progressive policies.
Three of the four Democrats Trump appeared to be referring to over the weekend were born in the United States. Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Tlaib in Detroit. Omar was born in Somalia and came to the United States in 1997 as a refugee, later becoming a U.S. citizen.
On Monday, Trump continued his attacks on the women, tweeting: "If Democrats want to unite around the foul language & racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular & unrepresentative Congresswomen, it will be interesting to see how it plays out."
A wide swath of House Democrats over the weekend flooded Twitter to condemn the president's tweets as racist and come to the women's defense, including some of the most moderate Democrats with whom the four have tangled.
"The offensive comments made this morning about my colleagues are totally unacceptable and wrong," tweeted Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a leader of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which has squared off against progressives. "There is no place for it (in Congress or anywhere in our country)."
Pelosi, while defending the four, lambasted Trump for focusing on "making America white again."
"When @realDonaldTrump tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to 'Make America Great Again' has always been about making America white again," she tweeted. "Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power."
Republicans were silent over the weekend, an acknowledgement of the power of the Trump brand ahead of the 2020 election. The few elected Republicans who regularly spoke out against Trump in recent years have largely left office.
The lone elected Republican to chastise the comment was Sen. Pat Toomey, a conservative from Pennsylvania, who on Monday said Trump was "wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from."
"Three of the four were born in America and the citizenship of all four is as valid as mine," he said in a statement. "I couldn't disagree more with these congresswomen's views on immigration, socialism, national security, and virtually every policy issue. But they are entitled to their opinions, however misguided they may be. We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry."
On Fox, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) declined Monday to criticize the president, saying only that he should "aim higher." Graham instead attacked the women as communists and anti-American.
Whether Trump's tweets will serve as a permanent reset on the House Democratic caucus has yet to be seen. Pelosi had managed to keep the wide-ranging Democratic caucus on relatively the same page from January through late June, when a dispute over a bill to fund the White House's emergency border spending bill tore the simmering tension into the open.
In coming weeks, House Democrats will have to deal with several policies that could bring those pressures back to the surface, including whether to raise the nation's debt limit and spending caps, and the Democratic response to a hearing with former special counsel Robert S. Mueller.
Just last week, tensions between Pelosi and some members of the "squad" were high. The speaker, in a closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting, blasted Democrats — and their staff members — for airing publicly their grievances with other Democrats.
"As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need a prosperity of kindness and decency. That civility is something that this caucus should be leading the way on," she told her fellow Democrats, according to a person in the room. "You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK."
Ocasio-Cortez criticized Pelosi in the Washington Post for what she called an "explicit singling out of newly elected women of color."
House Democrats largely rallied to Pelosi's defense, trying to diffuse a tension that threatens to overshadow the Democrats' hopes of serving as a check on the president and their conflict with the GOP-controlled Senate.
When Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff tweeted that Rep. Sharice Davids' (D-Kan.) "votes are showing her to enable a racist system," the House Democrats' official Twitter account blasted him for "singling out a Native American woman of color."