(ABC NEWS)–President Donald Trump disavowed a campaign rally chant of “send her back,” where the president’s supporters targeted Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., during a campaign event in Greenville, North Carolina, on Wednesday evening, telling reporters on Thursday afternoon that he “was not happy with it.”
“I disagree with it,” Trump said in the Oval Office, encouraging reporters to ask the supporters for an explanation of why they chanted during his remarks last night.
Trump would not say whether he would tell his supporters to not repeat the chant.
“I was not happy with it, I disagree with it,” he said. “But again, I didn’t say that, they did. But I disagree.”
The president on Wednesday night let the chant go on for about 13 seconds without saying a word. On Thursday, pushed by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl on why he did not begin speaking sooner, he claimed he did.
“If you would have heard, there was a tremendous amount of noise and action and everything else,” he said. “I started very quickly. And I think you know that.”
The top Republican in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, adamantly defended Trump, asserting that the president bears no responsibility for the chants of “send her back” after a week-long back-and-forth with progressive Democrats and charges of racist rhetoric.
McCarthy told reporters earlier in the day that the chants “have no place in our country,” but when pressed why it’s OK for the president to use that language, but not his supporters, the California Republican insisted the president never said that.
“The president clarified very clearly that he did not tell somebody –” McCarthy told ABC News senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce, cutting himself off. “He talked about the love of this country.”
“He talked about people who don’t love this country, you can leave,” he continued. “This is an issue about ideology.”
In a series of tweets last weekend, Trump first criticized the progressive Democratic congresswomen for what he characterized as “horrible and disgusting actions,” telling them to stop criticizing the government and “go back” to where they came from.
Asked about the president’s muted response in North Carolina, where Trump did not intervene but just stood on stage as supporters chanted, McCarthy contended he was told “it was a small group off to the side.”
“The president did not join in. The president moved on,” McCarthy said. “You want to dislike the president so much you’ve gonna accuse him of trying to do something he did not do? From the places that he moved on in the speech — he never joined in on it — and you want to try to hold him accountable for something that happened in a big audience?”
“What he did, in his responsibility was right,” McCarthy insisted. “He moved on to make them stop in the process. That’s exactly what the president did and the president talked about the greatness of this country.”
Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the unofficial captain of the so-called “Squad,” told reporters that the president’s campaign rhetoric targeting her Democratic colleague, Omar, is putting “millions of people in danger.”
“I think the president put millions of Americans in danger last night. His rhetoric is endangering lots of people,” Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, said. “This is just not just about threats to individual Members of Congress, but it is about creating a volatile environment in this country through violent rhetoric that puts anyone like Ilhan, anyone who believes in the rights of all people, in danger. And I think that he has a responsibility for that environment.”
The House of Representatives voted largely along party lines Tuesday to formally condemn the tweets, with just four House Republicans and one independent lawmaker siding with Democrats to adopt the measure.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, one of the president’s top allies on Capitol Hill, said that the president’s supporters at last night’s rally in his home state were not repeating the president’s language.
“If you’ve been at any rally you know the president doesn’t control the chants,” Meadows told Bruce.
“The president obviously loves this country and wants people here to love this country. And anything that would indicate there is not a love for this country is something people are going to react to,” he continued. “Too much emphasis is being placed on rallies and chants.”