NEW YORK — In an action unprecedented in modern times, the House of Representatives has passed a resolution condemning US President Donald Trump and denounced his “racist comments” against four leftist, non-white women Representatives after a chaotic debate.
The vote on the resolution on Tuesday was virtually split along party lines with only four Republicans joining the Democrats to vote for it, reflecting the deep division in the body politic.
Proclaiming that he “didn’t have a racist bone” in his body, Trump stood by his tweets that provoked the condemnation. He had tweeted that the “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen should “go back and fix the totally broken and crime-infested places they came from”.
Of the four Congresswomen, only one, Ilhan Omar, was born abroad in Somalia, but she is an American citizen. The other three, Alexandra Ocasio Cortes, who is of Puerto Rican descent, Ayanna Presley, who is African American, and Palestinian American Rashid Tlaib were born in the US.
“Go back to your country” is used as a threat and a racist taunt against immigrants, questioning their rights as American citizens.
The 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 by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should ‘go back’ to other countries”.
It is non-binding and beyond holding Trump up to public condemnation has no direct effect on his presidency. A similar resolution is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The last time a resolution was passed against a president was in 1913 when William Howard Taft was criticised for trying to influence a Senate election.
This was the first legislative action against Trump to be adopted. In August 2017 a resolution was introduced by a Democrat to condemn Trump for not adequately condemning the car attack on anti-racist protestors by a white supremacist in Virginia that killed one person and injured 19. But it went nowhere as did several suggestions for similar resolutions or for impeachment.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the centrists had held the line against such actions against Trump fearing that they would be a distraction with no concrete results and also antagonise some traditional Republican supporters who had voted for Democrats in the mid-term elections.
But this time Trump’s tweet had gone too far.
Pelosi said, “Every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president’s racist tweets. To do anything less would be a shocking rejection of our values and a shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people”.
It set the scene for a drama.
Under the House rules of decorum personal attacks on the members and the president are prohibited and Republicans asserted that Pelosi calling Trump’s tweets “racist” violated it. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, read the official ruling against Pelosi after the Representative presiding over the House session dramatically left the chair and stormed out.
Republicans demanded that the words be struck off the House record and held up the proceedings for about two hours. It was put to vote and defeated by the Democratic majority allowing the House to go ahead with resolution against Trump.
A Republican Representative Sean Duffy defended Trump saying, “In those tweets, I see nothing that references anybody’s race – not a thing – I don’t see anyone’s name being referenced in the tweets, but the president’s referring to people, congresswomen, who are anti-American”.
Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal objected to the use of the term “anti-American.”
Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi recalled the sting of the “Go Back” phrase. He wrote to his supporters, “As a member of ethnic and religious minorities, I’ve heard this attack before — and maybe you have too unfortunately. This type of speech has only one purpose — to divide Americans and “otherise” large populations of Americans”.
Some Republicans have also condemned Trump’s tweet and other vituperative statements. Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker said, “The president’s tweets were shameful, they were racist.”
The show of support for the four Representatives with Pelosi referring to them as sisters and pushing a resolution in support of them was a big turn around. The Representatives who are called “The Squad” advocate radical policies covering a range of issues from immigration to the economy and have been critical of the party leadership. They are associated with a group called Justice Democrats co-founded by its idealogue Indian American Saikat Chakrabarti.
Pelosi recently criticised the four for voting against an emergency funding for dealing with the border crisis, saying that they have “their twitter world” and no real following.
The Squad is as outspoken as Trump and one of them can even be more foul-mouthed than him.
Tlaib has publicly used an extreme obscenity involving his mother against Trump.
Omar has trivialised the 9/11 attack by al-Qaeda terrorists that killed 3,000 people as “some people did something”.
A version of the New Green Deal, an environmental, economic and social manifesto proposed by Ocasio-Cortez, proposed paying people who don’t want to work.
Trump wants to make them the face of the Democratic Party in the elections next year because they are far outside the mainstream.
He said, “As far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here you can leave. These are people that in my opinion hate our country”.
He appears to have used his tweets and his comments to provoke Pelosi and the Democrats to rally around them so that it would be easier for him to attack the entire party in the run-up to the election. — IANS