In 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned racist comments made by then-candidate Donald Trump, who questioned whether a federal judge would be able to rule fairly on a case because of his Mexican descent. On Tuesday, however, McConnell refrained from levying anything but the lightest critique of a slew of racist tweets the president posted this weekend, in which he called for four women of color in Congress to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Instead the senator shifted the focus onto Democrats, saying, “I think we’re better off to talk about the policies of our adversaries,” and criticizing the “incendiary rhetoric” across the ideological spectrum. He ultimately concluded that the “president’s not a racist.” As Vox’s Aaron Rupar reported, McConnell is one of many Republican leaders who’ve been reluctant to criticize Trump’s recent comments and have simply offered milquetoast responses, or complete silence, when asked about them.
His response is the latest evidence of how open the majority leader has become to defending Trump, given the president’s immense popularity with the Republican base. This year’s government shutdown over funding for the southern border wall and McConnell’s refusal to scrutinize the more than 20 sexual misconduct allegations the president faces are just a few other examples.
Asked five different ways on Tuesday for his take on the president’s tweets, McConnell sought to avoid confronting the question head-on. In a particularly striking exchange, CNN reporter Manu Raju asked McConnell if he’d consider Trump’s tweet racist if the sentiment was directed toward his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, an immigrant who was born in Taiwan.
Instead of responding to the question directly, McConnell called legal immigration a positive force in the US, saying “new people who come here have a lot of ambition, a lot of energy, tend to do very well and invigorate our country” and that legal immigrants have helped the country undergo a “process of renewal.”
His unwillingness to actually address the president’s statement — and the racist trope that many immigrants and people of color have heard countless times — was stunning.
Ultimately, McConnell’s response on Tuesday offered a clear marker: It underscored exactly how much Senate Republican leadership has capitulated to the president.