WASHINGTON ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday responded to the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s onslaught of racist tweets by urging both sides of the aisle to avoid “overheated” rhetoric.
The Kentucky Republican did not single out the president by name when making his first public comments on the Sunday tweets, in which Trump urged four women of color in Congress to “go back” to where they came from.
But McConnell did call out Democrats in the House, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“From the President to the Speaker, to the freshmen members of the House, all of us have a responsibility to elevate the public discourse. Our words do matter,” McConnell told reporters at a weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.
Trump’s attacks, which he repeated to reporters Monday and continued on Tuesday, didn’t initially name the congresswomen he was targeting, but they were almost certainly Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, all outspoken freshmen who have recently butted heads with Pelosi.
Trump’s comments elicited condemnations this week from Democrats ― and even some Republicans ― who agreed the tweets were, in fact, racist. Asked Monday if she thought Trump’s comments were racist, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said, “Yeah, I do.”
But McConnell dodged the question on Tuesday, saying instead he did not believe the president himself is a racist.
“We’re better off talking about the policies of our adversaries,” McConnell said, pointing to proposals supported by progressive House members he said would take the country down the wrong path.
When asked if he’d be offended if his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, were told to go back to where she came from, McConnell again dodged the question.
“I’m a big fan of legal immigration,” he said, calling it “a fulfilling of the American dream.”
Asked if he’d ever use the kind of language Trump has used, McConnell said, “I’m obviously a fan of legal immigration, it’s been a big part of my family for a quarter of a century.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.