N.J. Rep. Tom Malinowski Discusses His Resolution To Condemn Trump Over Racist Tweets
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
For the third straight day, President Trump has lashed out at Congress. Today, he's questioning why the House voted tonight on a resolution to condemn his racist tweets instead of the four freshmen lawmakers he was tweeting about. Here's the president expanding on the sentiment in his tweets on the South Lawn of the White House yesterday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If you're not happy in the U.S., if you're complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave. You can leave right now.
KELLY: Well, House debate over the resolution has been bitterly partisan and at one point was suspended for more than an hour after Republicans argued that Speaker Nancy Pelosi's floor speech should be stricken from the record.
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NANCY PELOSI: Every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president's racist tweets.
KELLY: Pelosi's comments were ruled out of order. The parliamentarian relied on precedent to say those comments were out of bounds, but Democrats defeated the GOP's attempt to strike them from the official record. Still the resolution passed - mostly along party lines - four Republicans and the newly Independent Justin Amash voted with Democrats to pass it. Earlier today, I spoke with Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski of New Jersey. He introduced the resolution.
TOM MALINOWSKI: When I heard the president's remarks, my first reaction was, I may not share the same politics as some of the congresswomen that he has been attacking, but we are all Americans. And unlike three of them, I was actually born in a foreign country. I was born in Poland. I'm an immigrant. I took the oath to defend and support the Constitution of the United States for the first time when I was 10 years old sworn in to be a citizen of this country. Does the president think I should go back? Obviously, he was not talking to me, and I think we understand why that is, and that concerns me.
KELLY: I mean, just to say it directly, you think it's because you're white.
MALINOWSKI: I'm a white guy, of course. These remarks were clearly - as even some of my Republican colleagues have acknowledged, these were racist remarks. This is the old leave America if you don't look like us that so many of our fellow Americans, immigrants and otherwise, have faced over the years.
KELLY: The other thing this vote does is it forces your Republican colleagues to go on the record, to take a stand. Is that intentional?
MALINOWSKI: It's intentional. I want everybody to take a stand, and what this resolution does is embracing the remarks of a great Republican president, Ronald Reagan, who gave I think some of the most eloquent tributes of any American president to the virtues and value of immigration to our country. They get to choose tonight - are they with Reagan, or are they going to be with Trump?
KELLY: The official title of this resolution is resolution condemning President Trump's racist comments. Did you debate whether to include that word? It's a word a lot of your colleagues have been reluctant to use, even those who've condemned it as vile or outrageous, his language. Many, particularly Republicans, have not gone so far as to call it racist.
MALINOWSKI: Well, I think it's a word that makes some people uncomfortable, but even some of my Republican colleagues, and it's very difficult for them for obvious reasons, have been willing to say these were racist remarks. Now, you know, I get back to this point. This is not really about President Trump. We know who he is. This resolution is about who we are. Who are we going to be in the Congress and in the United States of America? A chance to affirm the values that he is daily denigrating.
KELLY: What does a non-binding resolution accomplish though? Some of your colleagues are pushing for more, for a vote of censuring the president or actual legislation that would force some kind of change.
MALINOWSKI: The president made a statement. We are making a statement that says he does not speak for anybody but himself. He does not speak for America. I hope my Republican colleagues will be willing to say he does not speak for them. Words really do matter. In my congressional district, every single synagogue is debating whether to have armed security, and many of them do. Every mosque has state police coming to Friday prayers because we know that there has been a huge increase in anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Sikh attacks in our country. And it's partly because these fringe ideas, these fringe conspiracy theories, fringe hatred is now being legitimized by the highest leaders of our land. That has not happened in our country in recent memory. So this is real for people who I represent. It's a matter of public safety. And the point here is to say it's just him. We as a body do not stand for this.
KELLY: The president says a lot of Americans agree with him, that he stands behind his comments, a lot of Americans agree, and I - we've had members of his administration on air in the last 24 hours on NPR supporting this view.
MALINOWSKI: If you're a member of his administration, my goodness, I feel sorry for you at this moment because what are you supposed to say? You know, I would not be a member of his administration under these circumstances.
KELLY: I should note just for people listening, you were a member of the Obama administration, so that is probably not a surprise.
MALINOWSKI: I certainly was. It's not a surprise. But, you know, again, there are many patriotic Republicans who would not be a member of this administration because of moments like this where they are forced to defend the indefensible.
KELLY: What kind of conversations are you having on the Hill today? Can you give us a sense of the mood and how the conversation is playing out?
MALINOWSKI: Well, it's not the conversation any of us wanted to have. I was planning to spend today talking about transportation funding for New Jersey. We had a hearing about that. The president does this because he wants to distract us from talking about health care and infrastructure and prescription drug prices and the debt limit and all the work that we have to do. And the great dilemma that we have is that, you know, if we say nothing, then his words stand. He stands for the United States, and we cannot allow that.
KELLY: That is New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski. Congressman, thanks for your time.
MALINOWSKI: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.