(Bloomberg) -- The House is nearing a contentious vote Tuesday night to condemn comments from President Donald Trump that have been criticized as racist, with some Democrats complaining that party leaders aren’t punching back hard enough.
As the top House Republican dismissed the planned vote as “all politics,” Trump continued his attacks on the four outspoken freshmen Democrats who’ve been the focus of the president’s ire.
“Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game,” tweeted Trump. On Sunday, he tweeted that these lawmakers should “go back” to the countries they “originally came from,” instead of telling Americans “how our government is to be run.”
Later Tuesday, at a cabinet meeting, Trump said of the four women lawmakers: “It’s my opinion they hate our country.”
All four of the women -- Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan -- are U.S. citizens, and all but Omar were born in the U.S.
Ocasio-Cortez, in her own tweet Tuesday, reminded Trump that she was born in his hometown of New York City, and said Trump may not have racist bones, but that he does have “a racist mind” and “a racist heart.”
The exchanges come against a backdrop of the 2020 campaign for the White House and Congress. Trump won election in part by exploiting anti-immigrant sentiments among some voters, and it’s a message he’s stuck to through his first term. Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to harness the energy of female and minority voters who helped them win control of the House in 2018 and flip local and state offices in key swing states such as Wisconsin and Michigan.
Trump has indicated that he regards the controversy as a winner for him. Asked if he was concerned that his tweet was seen as racist and that white nationalists found common cause with him, Trump said no. “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” he said.
Trump on Tuesday also tweeted a thanks to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for publicly agreeing that his comments were not racist.
“Why isn’t the House voting to rebuke the filthy and hate laced things they have said?” Trump tweeted, referring to the four lawmakers. “Because they are the Radical Left, and the Democrats are afraid to take them on. Sad!”
On the Senate side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, “The president’s not a racist,” though he refused to comment on Trump’s statements. “Everyone ought to tone down their rhetoric,” said McConnell, who noted that his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, came to the U.S. at age 8 “and didn’t know a word of English.”
This back-and-forth was a prelude to the planned vote Tuesday night on a Democratic resolution condemning Trump for his comments -- a largely symbolic move that some party members said didn’t go far enough.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning with fellow Democrats, urged them to unify behind the condemnation measure and to back the four women, with whom she has had her own recent disagreements. She referred to them as “our sisters,” according to an aide in the room.
Some Democrats say Trump’s tweets have benefited Pelosi by unifying the party and helping her move past her own public squabbles with the same four women. “I think the longer that he does things like that, the easier it is for her to bring the caucus together on our main priorities,” said Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois.
The resolution, H.Res. 489, says the House “strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color” by saying that immigrants and people “who may look to the president like immigrants should ‘go back’ to other countries.”
It also criticizes Trump for “saying that members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.”
Some Democrats complained that Pelosi and party leaders -- who they said are already pulling their punches by not pursuing impeachment of Trump -- were doing so again by not bringing a formal censure resolution to the House floor. They said that would send a stronger message because the House has only rarely taken such action against a sitting president.
“The president has crossed a red line in his chaotic commentary,” according to a statement from Democratic Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, who introduced a censure measure. “Congress must censure him for this un-American and un-presidential language.”
But Democrat Dan Kildee of Michigan said a censure resolution would be less likely to get Republican support. “Where I come from, people want to know whether we are standing up to the president or not,“ he said. “And what word we attach to it is probably not that significant.”
Although some Republicans in Congress joined in the denunciations of Trump’s original tweets, McCarthy insisted the president’s comments were not racist.
“I will vote against this resolution. It’s all politics,” he told reporters, adding that the House should give similar scrutiny to comments by the four women, including their previous criticisms of Pelosi.
Louisiana Republican Ralph Abraham said on Twitter: “There’s no question that the members of Congress that @realDonaldTrump called out have absolutely said anti-American and anti-Semitic things. I’ll pay for their tickets out of this country if they just tell me where they’d rather be.”