Florida Democrat Responds To Trump's Racially Charged Tweets Against Congresswomen

Jul 14, 2019
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start their program talking about President Trump's tweets this morning directed at a group of Democratic lawmakers who were born overseas and some of whom were actually not born overseas. After disparaging their countries of origin, he said they should, quote, "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came," unquote.

While some political analysts from both parties insist the media should not focus on the president's tweets but rather policies, we need to note here that tweeting is the president's preferred form of messaging, that the tweets come on the weekend when the president has directed raids directed at removing individuals and families with deportation orders from the country. And when recent in-fighting between some of the party's more progressive members and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has come into public view, a number of members of Congress have called the president's tweets blatantly racist.

And while the president did not name specific members in his tweets, we have called a member of Congress who was born overseas for reaction. Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell represents Florida's 26th Congressional District, which covers the tip of Southern Florida, including suburbs to the south of Miami and the Florida Keys. She was born in Ecuador and immigrated to the United States with her family as a child, and she's actually the first person born in Ecuador to be elected to Congress. And we reached her today for her reaction.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So what was your reaction when you saw these tweets? Do you think that they were directed at you?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: When you see a president attacking any congress member who is an immigrant like myself, I obviously take it personally. But not just for myself, Michel - but also for half of the people living in my community, who have come from a different country. When he talks about going back to a crime-infested country, many of us have had to flee violent regimes, like the people from Venezuela.

Is he expecting Venezuelans to go back to a narco regime of Maduro, who's been actually assassinating his own citizens? Is that what he means when he puts a tweet out like that? Whether by birth or not, we are just as American as anyone else. And I have dedicated my career, Michel, for the past 20 years on working to improve the community that we live in. And I wish the president would do the same.

MARTIN: Have you heard from either constituents who were born elsewhere or have you heard from other members of Congress about this? And what are they saying?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: I think that we all agree that it's a racist tweet, that's it's a tweet that is being used to divide. It incites violence. We have seen time and time again different groups that have attacked people like myself or other members that represent communities of color. So we are all in agreement that this is not the language that we need to be seeing or hearing from this president.

MARTIN: In the tweet, he references progressive Democrat congresswomen. He puts progressive in quotes. And Democrat, of course, is something that many people see as sort of - a sort of a mild insult as opposed to Democratic. It's one of those sort of subtle little digs that some people see. But some people think that he's directing these comments at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, who, of course, were citizens from birth.

Do you think that he is directing these comments sort of more broadly, or do you think it's specifically targeted? I know I apologize I'm asking you to sort of interpret for the president. But do you think he's specifically targeting immigrants, or is it sort of political views that you think he's trying to disparage here?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: So it's both, right? I mean, I think that it is very clear that he is specifically targeting women of color that have been elected to serve their communities, many of them who were born in the United States, who are U.S.-born citizens. But it's also disparaging against all of us and millions of immigrants who have come from a different country who have been contributing to what makes this country thrive.

MARTIN: This is a multipart tweet, and it ends with, I'm sure that Nancy Pelosi - who is the speaker of the House - would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements. A number of people who've sort of in reporting about this believe that this is in part a reference to the disagreement in the Democratic caucus between some of the members who voted against border security funds that was negotiated between, you know, the White House and Congress, feeling that there weren't enough guardrails about how that money would actually be used.

Is this a serious disagreement within the Democratic caucus? Now that the bill has been agreed on, it's been - it's gone forward, does the disagreement linger, in your view? And how do you think it should be addressed?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: So I have not been a part of those discussions of the disagreements. I can tell you that I've been very focused on working with the Hispanic Caucus on making sure that we insert those provisions on the 2020 bills that we will be passing. But we are united. Despite what the media reports, most of us are very united and aligned in our values and understand what our goals are and why we were sent to Congress.

MARTIN: And do you think that Speaker Pelosi is handling these disagreements appropriately?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: I was unable to attend the last Democratic caucus, but I did hear that she was very strong in ensuring that if members have a problem to go speak with her directly. And she is willing to always listen to all of us and take our concerns into account. I think that she has been a great unifier, I think that she will continue to do that, and I think that the Democratic caucus will be unified. I don't want anyone to for one second think that we will not be working together to ensure that we hold this president accountable.

MARTIN: And finally, your district is in South Florida, as we said. It covers an area just to the south of Miami. Miami was one of the cities that was supposed to have been targeted by these ICE raids, which were supposed to have started early this morning. Have you heard anything about that? I mean have you heard of people actually being detained or anything of that sort from the city?

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Well, you know, unfortunately, these ICE raids have been going on for quite some time. I haven't heard anything specifically today, but I have been getting a lot of messages from members of my community asking for information on what to do there. They're very, very scared.

MARTIN: That is Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. She's a Democrat. She represents Florida's 26th District. And she's, as we said, the first person born in Ecuador to be elected to the United States Congress.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: Thank you so much, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.