At his campaign rally Thursday night in Minneapolis, which is home to the largest Somali population in the U.S., Trump said Washington leaders had sent "large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers."
The statement drew boos from the nearly all-white crowd at Target Center, the city's NBA arena, and had echoes of his campaign appearance in Minneapolis shortly before the 2016 election, when he described Somali resettlement as "the disaster taking place in Minnesota."
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Trump's "racist rant" was the latest example of his efforts to divide the nation for his political benefit. "It is all the more disturbing that the almost all-white audience welcomed this overt racism and that Republican political leaders remain silent or even support such bigotry," Awad said.
Trump also boasted that he had kept a promise by ordering that no refugees would be resettled in any city or state without approval from that city or state. He apparently meant an executive order he issued two weeks earlier that said the federal government "should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees."
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey — who Trump called "a rotten man" and a "bad mayor" — tweeted in reply: "Consent given. Immigrants and refugees are welcome in Minneapolis." "Immigrants and refugees have helped make our state a wonderful place to live and work — which is far more than this President has done," tweeted Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is running for president. "Stop using immigrants and refugees as political pawns!"
Two Republican congressmen who traveled to Minneapolis with the president on Air Force One and attended Thursday night's rally — Reps. Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber — did not immediately respond to requests for comments left with their spokeswomen Friday. Emmer chairs the House GOP campaign arm, the Republican National Congressional Committee.
Defending the president was U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis, who got a strong endorsement from Trump at the rally. Lewis, a former congressman, said Trump was talking about the need for reforming an asylum system that once dispersed refugees around the country so they could assimilate, but later came to concentrate them in specific communities.
"I think that's what the president was getting at and I agree with that," Lewis said in an interview Friday. Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, the highest-ranking GOP official in state government, said the president's remarks on Somalis and immigration didn't strike him as bigoted. He said Trump isn't afraid to say when he believes something isn't working well.
"That has been a contentious issue in Minnesota, but how we navigate through it will be ours to solve," Gazelka said in an interview. Trump also attacked U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali American from Minneapolis who has long been one of his favorite targets, as an "America-hating socialist" and a "disgrace to our country," and he criticized Minnesotans for electing her.
"His hate is no match for our movement," Omar replied in a tweet that included a link to a site for donations. Omar and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York make up half of what's known as the "squad" of four freshmen female representatives of color who have been sharp critics of the president. By Friday morning, Ocasio-Cortez was trying to raise money off Trump's attacks from the night before, seeking $3 donations to be split between her and Omar.
"This is just the latest installment in Trump's xenophobic crusade against the Squad and our progressive mission. And he's not going to back down," Ocasio-Cortez's campaign said in a fundraising email. "Our movement scares him. The Squad represents everything about the future of our democracy, while Trump only stands for dragging us into the past. He knows he has to tear us down to win his hateful agenda."