July 18, 2019 / 5:18 PM / a month ago

Trump distances himself from 'send her back' chants

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after arriving at Pitt-Greenville Airport before heading to a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, North Carolina, U.S., July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Facing a backlash, U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday distanced himself from supporters’ chants of “send her back” after he criticized Somali-born Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar at a rally in North Carolina.

“I felt a little bit badly about it,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about the chants at Wednesday night’s rally, which drew an outpouring of criticism from Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans.

Trump paused for 11 seconds when the chants erupted after he recounted comments by Omar, who was born in Somalia and emigrated to the United States, that he described as “vicious anti-Semitic screeds.”

He told reporters at the White House he had started speaking very quickly after the chanting began, but he did not say he would ask his supporters to refrain from such behavior.

“I would say that I was not happy with it. I disagreed with it. But again I didn’t say that. They did. And I disagreed with it,” Trump said.

Omar was one of four liberal lawmakers - all women of color - that Trump criticized as un-American, saying they were welcome to leave the country if they did not like his policies on issues such as immigration and defending Israel.

Trump tweeted over the weekend that the four progressive representatives, known as “the squad” - Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts - should “go back” where they came from, even though all are U.S. citizens and three are U.S.-born.

Reporting by Alex Alper; writing by Doina Chiacu; editing by Susan Thomas and Cynthia Osterman

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