Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that Donald Trump is "on to something" with his inflammatory attacks against four congresswomen, attempting to frame the president's racist rhetoric as rooted in ideological differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.
"I think the president is on to something," McConnell told the Fox Business Network, citing his opposition to policy proposals, including the "Green New Deal" and "Medicare for All," espoused by some progressive lawmakers and 2020 White House hopefuls.
"We're in a big debate now and next year about what we want America to be like," McConnell said. "Do we really think socialism applies here at a time of great prosperity, 50-year-low unemployment? That's what the election I think is going to be about."
After tweeting Sunday that the quartet of high-profile House Democrats — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusettsand Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — should "go back” to where they came from, the president has sought to brand their liberal agenda as representative of the whole Democratic Caucus and his potential reelection opponents.
After near-universal Democratic condemnation of Trump's weekend tweets, which resulted in the House approving a measure rebuking the president, McConnell insisted Trump "is not a racist" and told reporters Tuesday that "it's about time we lowered the temperature all across the board."
Ocasio-Cortez has accused McConnell of being "complicit in advancing racism in America" and charged that he "doesn't even have the backbone to speak out against" Trump's remarks.
McConnell pushed back against that criticism Thursday, calling it "nonsense" and saying he "was there" in 1963 for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and was "an observer" when former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"Look, I've got nothing to apologize on this front. We've got to tone the rhetoric down across the country," McConnell said. "Using, throwing around words like 'racism,' you know, kind of routinely applying it to almost everything. Let's talk about the issues. And the issues are ... where they want to take America. They want to take America into a socialist country."