HELENA — Montana’s two U.S. senators — and others — didn’t hold back last week, as they reacted to President Trump’s tweets attacking four Democratic congresswomen of color and telling them to “go back” to “the places from which they came.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester called the statements “racism” that is divisive and harmful to the country.
“That’s how (Trump) hopes to win, I guess, but it’s not good for the country,” Tester said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show on Thursday. “And if Republicans don’t start standing up and saying `stop this insanity,’ it’s going to continue, and the country will suffer.”
He also said Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to take on Trump, even in states where he won, and that they need to “go back and punch him in the face” on what his policies have done to the country.
Montana’s Republican U.S. senator, Steve Daines, came to the defense of the president, but later told MTN News that chants of “send her back” by Trump supporters at a North Carolina rally on Wednesday, aimed at one of the congresswomen, were “inappropriate.”
And, Daines’ initial support of the president last week — and blasting of the congresswomen — brought a public rebuke by the Montana Association of Rabbis, who wrote an open letter saying they were “appalled” by Trump’s remarks and Daines’ support.
“It is not the Montana way to personally attack others for their political viewpoints or expressions,” they said.
Daines said Friday that he planned to meet with the rabbis — although another Jewish rabbi who didn’t sign the letter told MTN News it didn’t represent the views of all rabbis in the state.
“Any group of people is welcome to be for or against what the president said,” said Chaim Bruk of the Chabab Lubavitch synagogue in Bozeman. “But I don’t think that the role of a rabbi is to involve ourselves in political issues.”
Daines also told MTN News that where the congresswomen are from, or what race they are, made no difference to him. He said he objected to their “far left, radical” views and criticism of Israel from some of them.
“The bigger issue here is these radical views that these members of the House hold,” he said Friday.
Trump unleashed his tweet last Sunday, aimed at four congresswomen: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
The women are of African, Palestinian and Puerto Rican descent, but all except Omar were born in the United States. Omar was born in Somalia but has been an American citizen since 1999.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came,” the president said. “Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”
On Wednesday, Trump criticized Omar directly at a rally of supporters, some of whom began chanting “send her back.”
Daines sent out his own tweet on Monday, saying Montanans “are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and ideals.”
Daines’ comments prompted the letter from the rabbis, who said charges of anti-Semitism are being “weaponized and exploited” by those who are responsible for the “rise of white nationalism and anti-Semitic violence in this country.”
“In a direct affront to the Jewish communities and Jewish leaders, Sen. Daines has decided to join in the president’s rhetoric of hate, a rhetoric which represents a serious threat to Jewish communities,” they wrote.
Mark Kula, a Missoula rabbi who signed the letter, told MTN News Friday that some of the congresswomen’s criticism of Israel are part of the political discussion, and not anti-Semitic.
“To raise an issue is not anti-Semitic,” he said. “In our own city here in Missoula, we had swastikas put up on the wall … That’s anti-Semitic.”
Kula said one intent of the letter was to emphasize how it’s better to sit down and discuss differences, rather than taking to Twitter or other forums to demonize the opponent.
Daines said he’s a strong supporter of Israel, and that he’s offended by the congresswomen calling for the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and equating immigrant internment facilities near the Southern border with “concentration camps.”
“That is an affront to those who endured, died in and survived the Holocaust,” he said. “So, these views are radical. I don’t believe they’re pro-American, I believe they’re anti-American. And they’re anti-Semitic and they’re anti-Israel, and they undermine certainly the views that the vast majority of Americans and Montanans hold.”
Tester, speaking on “Morning Joe” Thursday, said more Republicans should call out Trump for making racist, inflammatory statements.
He also said Democrats needs to point out that Trump hasn’t done much of anything to address serious issues confronting the nation, such as the high cost of health care and higher education, or problems on the Southern border, or infrastructure.
“Even in the states where Donald Trump won big, (I don’t think) it does you any good running away from Donald Trump,” he said. “I think you need to go back and punch him in the face.
“The truth is, is this guy is bad for the country. We’re running trillion-dollar deficits; all of our allies, we’ve distanced them; he’s wrapped his arms around the folks who are the despots in the world.”
-Mike Dennison reporting for MTN News