WASHINGTON — Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., chided President Donald Trump on Monday for tweeting that some Democratic congresswomen of color should go back to the countries they come from.

Bacon issued an afternoon press release describing the president’s rhetoric as “unacceptable” while simultaneously offering his own criticisms of the congresswomen in question.

“When it comes to their far-left policies and extreme ideologies, I strongly disagree with them,” Bacon said of his Democratic colleagues. “However, they are entitled to the views they campaigned and won on. Any hatred toward any nationality is repugnant, whether it comes from the left or the right.

“Having more civility and mutual respect and removing the contempt in our political debate are a must if we want to make progress in Washington.”

When Trump announced his reelection bid last month, Bacon immediately endorsed him. Bacon’s Monday statement gave no indication that he would withdraw that endorsement.

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Bacon’s statement was quickly hailed by some on social media but just as swiftly criticized by others as weak sauce, given that he did not say whether he found the tweets to be “racist” or “xenophobic.”

At least one Republican House member, Will Hurd of Texas, has used exactly those terms to describe Trump’s words. And many Democrats were straightforward in their criticisms of the president’s language.

“Yes, these remarks are racist,” Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said in a statement. “This kind of offensive language has no place in our discourse.”

Bacon’s press release came after Nebraska Democrats issued a statement in the morning calling on members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation to denounce Trump’s tweets.

“Communities of color often hear the racist refrain ‘go back to your country’ screamed at them on the streets. And to now hear this from the President of the United States is unacceptable and must be condemned,” Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said in the statement.

Trump sparked the backlash when he tweeted Sunday about Democratic women in the House “who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly ... and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how ... it is done.”

Trump did not cite the House members by name, but it seemed clear that he was referring to freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.

All four are U.S. citizens. The only one not born in America is Omar, who came to the country as a refugee.

Trump wasn’t backing off his tweets when pressed by reporters Monday at a White House event.

One reporter asked if Trump was concerned that many saw his tweets as racist and that white nationalist groups favor his point of view.

“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump responded. “And all I’m saying — they want to leave, they can leave. Now, it doesn’t say leave forever. It says leave, if you want.”

The four lawmakers held a press conference Monday evening to respond to Trump. Omar described Trump’s statements as a “blatantly racist attack” on four duly elected representatives of color.

“This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms or it’s happening on national TV,” Omar said. “And now it’s reached the White House garden.”

Many Republican lawmakers have been exasperated with Trump’s rhetoric, particularly on immigration, even as they are pleased with his selection of conservative judges, rolling back of regulations and other policy moves.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., alluded to that dynamic during a Monday floor speech when he said that if Republicans are willing to let the president engage in racist rhetoric because they like his policies, they are “making a deal with the devil.”

It’s hardly the first time Trump has set off a firestorm with rhetoric widely seen as racist, and each time, it has left GOP lawmakers answering uncomfortable questions in Capitol hallways when they would rather be focusing on their legislative agenda.

Many of those Republican lawmakers have offered general critiques in response to Trump’s words but stopped well short of calling his comments racist, a move that would no doubt upset die-hard Trump fans in the party’s base.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the most senior Republican in the Senate, for example, provided this statement Monday:

“The American people deserve more civility in their politics. Democratically-elected officials should avoid name-calling and be treated respectfully,” Grassley said. “That’s true of these members of Congress and that’s true of the president.”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, meanwhile, said in a statement: “This isn’t constructive; we should stay focused on debating the issues and the radical policy agenda they’re pushing,” apparently referring to the congresswomen.

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., likewise avoided labeling Trump’s tweets as racist.

“I do not agree with the president’s tweets over the weekend,” he said. “Our focus should be on constructive and thoughtful debate. We must work together to move forward as a nation.”

Others opted simply not to comment on the matter.

By late Monday, The World-Herald had not received statements from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., or Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., declined to say Monday evening whether the president’s statements were racist.

“You can call my office,” Fischer said.

A call to Fischer’s office went to voicemail and was not immediately returned.

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Reporter - Politics/Washington D.C.

Joseph Morton is The World-Herald Washington Bureau Chief. Morton joined The World-Herald in 1999 and has been reporting from Washington for the newspaper since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @MortonOWH. Email:joseph.morton@owh.com

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