GREENVILLE — A fired-up Donald Trump took aim once more at Democratic lawmakers who "hate" America as he hit the campaign trail on Wednesday, hours after an opposition bid to impeach the US president over "racist" attacks was shot down in Congress.
Egging on a sea of supporters in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump reeled off the names of the ethnic minority congresswomen whom he has urged to "go back" to their countries of origin in a series of incendiary tweets.
"These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force of evil," charged Trump -- whose tweets were condemned as "racist" a day earlier by the House of Representatives, although a subsequent attempt to launch impeachment proceedings failed in the chamber.
"Send her back!" the crowd roared when Trump cited Ilhan Omar -- one of just two Muslim women in Congress, whose criticism of Israel has been deemed anti-Semitic by many lawmakers.
"The way they speak so badly of our country," Trump told his supporters, decked out in the colors of the US flag and "Make America Great Again" caps.
"They want to demolish our constitution. Eliminate the values that built this magnificent country."
Pouring scorn on all four congresswomen -- known as "The Squad" – Trump aimed perhaps his harshest taunts at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the outspoken New York lawmaker who has likened migrant detention centers at the Mexican border to concentration camps.
"I don't have time to go with three different names. We will call her Cortez," he mocked, to the crowd's delight.
'Enjoying' the battle
Trump's attacks have widely been seen as a bid to rally his right-wing base as the 2020 White House race heats up -- at the risk of inflaming racial tensions and deepening partisan divisions in America.
He himself has given credence to the notion, telling reporters he was "enjoying" his battle with the congresswomen "because I have to get the message out to the American people."
Democratic leaders have rallied around their colleagues -- Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. All are American citizens and all except Omar, who is of Somali origin, were born in the United States.
But even as anger simmered in Democratic ranks, many in the party joined Republicans in the House of Representatives in voting to block an attempt to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump -- illustrating divisions in the Democratic-controlled chamber.
Trump meanwhile put a victorious spin on the evening's news as he arrived in Greenville, pumped up for his first rally since announcing his 2020 re-election bid.
"We have just received an overwhelming vote against impeachment," he told reporters, calling it a "most ridiculous project."
"And that's the end of it. Let the Democrats now go back to work," Trump said.
'Those words are racism'
Trump's four-day attack on the congresswomen -- including taunts such as "if you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!" – and the Democratic response have laid bare deep rifts in Washington.
While the rhetoric has enraged liberals, just four Republicans voted with the 235 Democrats Tuesday night to condemn Trump for "racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color."
Pelosi stood by the resolution condemning Trump's language.
"By its definition, those words are racism," she said.
But she told reporters she would rather see ongoing investigations of Trump play out before launching any divisive impeachment effort.
Pushing back at Democrats, the president -- who years ago pushed the "birther" conspiracy that Barack Obama was not born in the United States – has insisted he does not "have a Racist bone in my body!"
According to a Wednesday poll from USAToday/Ipsos, two-thirds of respondents disagree, judging that telling minority Americans to "go back to where they came from" is racist.
But initial indications suggest the episode has not hurt Trump's support among Republicans: his approval rating has risen five points to 72 per cent, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.
And the issue of immigration -- which was core to Trump's 2016 campaign, and will be again in 2020 -- continues to strike a powerful chord.
A Pew study released on Wednesday showed that 57 of Republicans feel America risks "risk losing our identity as a nation" if it is too open to immigrants.
Dwelling at length on his upset victory over Hillary Clinton -- "one of the most extraordinary and exciting evenings in history of television" – Trump urged his supporters in Greenville, "We have to do it again."
And the crowd chanted back: "Four More Years!" — AFP