STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump has done this before. A new story emerges that does not directly involve him, and then the president offers an incendiary comment that refocuses the story entirely on him. So it went when four women, newly elected Democrats in the House, publicly questioned their party leaders over how to confront the president. Then the president took a side by embracing old racist language. He wrote that progressive women in the House should go back where they came from. For the record, most came from America and all are United States citizens, although some do have different immigrant backgrounds than the president's immigrant background.
Franco Ordoñez, NPR White House correspondent is here. Good morning, sir.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: We should note the president said a little bit more than just go back.
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, he said, you know, you should go back to where you originally came from, speaking out about - before you go speak out about how the United States government should be run. He also claimed that the lawmakers came from countries whose - quote, "whose governments are complete and total catastrophe." But as you noted, they all come from - they're American citizens, etc., etc.
INSKEEP: And I guess we should just note - this is something that's been said in different ways all across the country at different times. And people may not feel that they're giving offense when they say, America - love it or leave it. But in this context, what the president is saying - shut up; don't complain; don't say what you think.
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, he's definitely, you know, tapping into a sentiment that he has been addressing since the 2016 campaign, "Make America Great Again." This was his slogan. He's tapping into the frustrations of many Americans.
INSKEEP: Although when you say the frustrations of many Americans, his complaint is that these lawmakers are complaining about America.
INSKEEP: Hasn't the president built a great deal of his own brand on complaining about America? It's what he does daily.
ORDOÑEZ: He talks a lot about the problems of America. He talks about trade deals that have been done in the past. He talks about how the past administrations have brought the United States into a more difficult situation.
INSKEEP: Now, with this said, the four women that he appears to have targeted - well, first, is it clear that these are the four women that he's targeting? Who are we talking about here?
ORDOÑEZ: You know, no names have been named. But you know, it's pretty widely understood that we're talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative Ilhan Omar, Representative Rashida Tlaib, Representative Ayanna Pressley. These are lawmakers - freshman Democrats who have been in the news for the pressure that they have put on their own Democratic leaders.
INSKEEP: And I guess we just need to note they are racially different than the president of the United States in some instances; different religion than the president of the United States, whose own religious affiliation is somewhat unclear. They're different in certain ways, although they have an immigrant background as the president has an immigrant background. Right?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, they're all women of color. But certainly, the president seems to be ignoring the fact that these are all women who are U.S. citizens. Only Omar was actually born outside of the country; she's from Somalia. But Pressley, she was born in Cincinnati. Tlaib was born in Detroit. Ocasio-Cortez, she was born in the Bronx in New York.
INSKEEP: Some young some Democrats were pretty mad at them just a few days ago, (unintelligible) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's been a big tension between the Democrats. They've had a problem kind of unifying the party. They were arguing those four lawmakers were kind of in tensions with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about a controversial border package. Nancy Pelosi kind of spoke out against them, questioning their influence. Ocasio-Cortez returned fire, saying that Pelosi was singling out women of color. Even President Trump jumped into the mix before. And it's been a difficult time for the Democratic Party.
INSKEEP: Has this unified the Democrats?
ORDOÑEZ: It is interesting that, certainly on this issue, they're now kind of banding together against, you know, arguably their common enemy, President Trump. And they're looking to, you know, kind of address this together. And Trump's not backing down.
INSKEEP: And when the president embraced this racist language, did his party have anything to say about it?
ORDOÑEZ: We have not heard from other Republicans yet. You know, obviously, the former Republican Justin Amash, he did call this out and said these comments were racist and disgusting.
INSKEEP: Franco, thanks.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.