WASHINGTON -- The National Republican Congressional Committee chairman said it was not acceptable that the crowd at President Donald Trump's rally Wednesday chanted "send her back" about a Muslim congresswoman who was born in Somalia.
But Rep. Tom Emmer declined on Thursday to say whether Trump's rhetoric could damage GOP efforts to win back the House next year. He also said Republicans were unprepared for health care attacks last year, but next year will be focus on the impact of Democrats' calls to expand Medicare to cover more people.
Trump escalated his attacks on four first-term congresswomen of color after a racist tweet called on the four American citizens to "go back" to "the crime infested countries from which they came." During his comments about Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia is one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, the crowd chanted, "send her back."
Emmer, who represents Minnesota in the House, said he did not see the president's rally, but said of the chant, "There's no place for that kind of stuff."
"There's not a racist bone in this president's body," Emmer told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "What he was trying to say is that if you don't appreciate this country, you don't have to be here.
"There's no place for ... 'send her back,'" Emmer added. "I disagree with that completely."
Trump has repeatedly defended his tweet, and a House vote to condemn it as racist this week drew only four Republican votes. The rest of the GOP conference voted to support the president.
Emmer did not directly answer whether Trump's controversial rhetoric could imperil the GOP effort to win back the House. Depending on the outcome of a special election in North Carolina's 9th District, Republicans need a net gain of either 19 or 20 seats to win the majority.
Asked if the president being on the ballot was a benefit or a disadvantage, Emmer suggested it was beneficial because people who were angry with Trump could direct their anger directly at him, rather than down-ballot Republicans.
"The last election we heard a lot of people, especially in suburban seats, that were going in, they wanted to vote against the president and all they had was to vote against our guys," Emmer said. "This time they get a choice."