As yet another presidential tweet dominated the news cycle in Washington, reporters circled Florida Sen. Marco Rubio Monday.
The reporters wanted to know the Republican senator’s thoughts on President Donald Trump’s tweets a day earlier, saying that four progressive minority women of color in Congress should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
“I think identity politics is a poison, it’s toxic,” Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, said. “I think that’s true when members of Congress practice it. But the presidency and the words of a president carry even greater weight in terms of the impact on society. The president shouldn’t have written that. I think it damages him but it damages the country and none of us should be participating in identity politics.”
Rubio declined to say whether he thought Trump’s tweet was racist, though he said many people will interpret his remarks as racist.
“I don’t read into people’s intentions,” Rubio said. “First of all, I disagree with the term that because somehow your parents were born in another country that somehow makes you less American. Perhaps that wasn’t his intent. I can’t tell you what his intent was. The White House and the president can tell you that. I can only tell you that when presidents speak, it has an impact.”
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, also a Republican, said he disagreed with the tweet — but he said he thought it wasn’t racist.
“It was clearly not the way I would do it but let’s remember the position that these Democrats have taken. They’ve become the anti-Semitic party now and so that’s wrong. Our country is not anti-Semitic. They are attacking law enforcement, our border agents and ICE. That’s wrong. These people are doing their job.”
As Rubio and Scott responded to Trump’s social media posts from Sunday, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan held a news conference on the other side of the U.S. Capitol.
“I want to tell children across this country ... that no matter what the president says, this country belongs to you, and it belongs to everyone, and today, that notion — that very notion — was challenged,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters.
The four women generated a news cycle of their own last week after publicly feuding with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Rubio said Trump’s tweets led to more negative attention for the president instead of negative attention on some of the most liberal members of the Democratic Party.
“The Democratic Party is in the midst of an all-out internal brawl in which anybody who criticizes these four members of Congress is accused of being a racist or racially insensitive, and to add fuel to that fire is also not laudable,” Rubio said.
South Florida Democrats universally condemned Trump’s remarks on Sunday and Monday. A few Republicans defended the remarks while many declined to weigh in.
While Rubio said he didn’t know Trump’s intentions, he said members of his own family were told to go back to their country after arriving in the U.S. from Cuba.
“I think the implication by anyone that you somehow don’t belong, you’re not as American as someone else because your parents were born somewhere else is something I do not agree with,” Rubio said. “I think it is directly counter to what makes America unique.”
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been a close political ally of Trump, has remained mum on the tweet. He hasn’t uttered any public statement about it and his office didn’t respond to a request for comment.