Ga. Republicans distance themselves from Trump’s racist tweets

Still, many stop short of calling for apology

Several Georgia Republican lawmakers bristled late Monday at a series of tweets from President Donald Trump that urged four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from, even as they defended his border policies and declined to call for an apology.

Others sought to steer clear of Trump’s controversial remarks, which were directed at U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, progressive freshmen who have been highly critical of the president and his policies.

No Georgia Republicans publicly joined their African-American colleague Will Hurd, R-Texas, who called Trump’s tweets “racist and xenophobic.”

Instead, many were critical of Trump’s words but agreed with the sentiment that Democrats’ shift to the left was hurting the country.

“I’m not as concerned about where people are from as I am about the radical agenda of the socialist wing of the Democratic party in Congress,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler. “The very public infighting among Democrats continues to escalate and it’s happening at the detriment of the American people.”

>> Related: In suburban Atlanta, Donald Trump's 'go back' rant could be costly for GOP in 2020

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said Trump is “frustrated that Congress has not acted to solve the crisis at our border, and he expressed his frustrations in a way that didn’t promote reconciliation across the aisle and across our country.”

Without a unified directive from the party, the president’s Capitol Hill allies were left scrambling to formulate a response to the remarks, which began on social media Sunday. Trump is broadly popular among GOP base voters, and in general the party’s elected officials have avoided criticizing the president directly.

However, the sentiment behind Trump's "go home" comments is one that has deep, painful roots in American history. It’s been hurled at most immigrant groups at one point or another.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, emphasized the point during an appearance on MSNBC.

“We heard this during the ’60s when little children were trying to desegregate schools, when we were trying to desegregate lunch counters and restaurants, when were trying to get the right to vote, to go back,” Lewis said. “We’re not going back. we’re here to stay.

“What he said and what he continues to say is racist. It is racism. You cannot hide it, you cannot sweep it under the American rug.”

Of the four congresswomen targeted by Trump, three were born in the U.S., and the Somalia-born Omar is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

The president doubled down on his remarks on Monday and Tuesday, saying that the four Democratic lawmakers hate America, and “if you’re not happy here, then you can leave.”

House Democratic leaders teed up a vote on a resolution condemning the president’s comments for Tuesday, and local Democratic candidates were quick to pounce on social media.

Trump’s “xenophobic comments further fan the flames of his hateful rhetoric towards our black and brown communities and places them in harm’s way,” said Nabilah Islam, a Democrat running in Georgia’ 7th Congressional District.

Carolyn Bourdeaux, one of Islam’s primary opponents, said Trump was trying to distract from “human rights abuses at the border and the corruption of his administration.”

Congressman Jody Hice, R-Monroe, who has been an ardent supporter of the president through his leadership role in the House Freedom Caucus, said “I don’t believe the president is a racist.”

“Although I wish he had been more diplomatic, I share his frustrations in regard to Members of Congress making repeated derogatory statements about the Nation we love, serve, and defend,” he said.

Two Georgia Republicans, U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, more directly condemned Trump’s remarks, with the former saying “there is not a debate about whether or not it’s acceptable.”

Isakson said Trump’s comments were “totally inappropriate.”

"I wasn't elected to make excuses or explain the statements of somebody else, and so I'm just not going to do that," said Isakson, a three-term Republican who sharply criticized the president for dishonoring the late John McCain earlier this year.

Isakson’s Senate colleague, David Perdue, said it was “outrageous” to consider Trump’s comments racist.

The Republican golfed with his White House ally in Virginia on Saturday and said he was focused on funding the federal government and recent hostilities with Iran rather than Trump’s tweets.