Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) defended President Donald Trump’s racist attacks on Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar and his supporters’ chants of “send her back” Wednesday night, saying that they weren’t racist because the comments only applied to those who did not support Trump.
Over the past week, Trump has repeatedly attacked Omar, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), tweeting that they should “go back” to their home countries, a common racist trope. (Omar came to the United States as a child from Somalia; the other three were born in the United States.) He has openly questioned their patriotism, saying they hate America and love Al Qaeda, and suggested they are a threat to the United States.
At a rally Wednesday night, Trump smiled as his supporters demanded Omar leave the country, chanting “Send her back!”
Asked about those attacks and the racist chant on Thursday morning, Graham suggested that the remarks were not racist, admitting the president only wanted to deport people of color who do not support him.
“I don’t think it’s racist to say,” Graham told reporters on Thursday. “I don’t think a Somali refugee embracing Trump would be asked to go back. If you’re racist, you want everybody to go back because they are black or Muslim. That’s not what this is about. What this is about to me is that these four congresswoman, in their own way, have been incredibly provocative.”
“If you think he’s as racist, that’s up to you. I don’t,” Graham added.
He noted that “for President Trump, if you embrace his policies, doesn’t matter where you come from, he probably likes you.”
Graham has not always supported Trump’s racism. In 2016, the South Carolina senator decried Trump’s comments about an American-born federal judge, whom Trump had accused of being biased against him because he was “a Mexican.”
At the time, Graham denounced it as “the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy.”
“If anybody was looking for an off ramp, this is probably it,” he said, speaking about support for the then-Republican presidential candidate.