The four progressive Democratic lawmakers who drew the ire of President Donald Trump in recent days fired back on Monday evening during an unusual news conference in which they labeled the president's attacks a "distraction."
Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., said during the event at the House of Representatives that the president challenged them personally because he is not able to defeat them on the policy level.
"We'll stay focused on our agenda," Ocasio-Cortez said, the only one of the four to speak entirely without notes. "And we won't get caught slippin'. Because all of this is a distraction. It's a distraction from what is most important."
The news conference came one day after Trump said on Twitter that the lawmakers should "go back" to the "places from which they came."
The president's statements were characterized as xenophobic and racist by a number of Democrats and denounced by some Republicans, including Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only black Republican senator, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
"Weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policy," Ocasio-Cortez said. "This president does not know how to make the argument that Americans do not deserve health care. He does not know how to defend his policies, so what he does is attack us personally. And that is what this is all about."
All four congresswomen are U.S. citizens and three of them were born in the United States. Omar was born in Somalia and became an American citizen as a teenager. Some of the president's harshest attacks have been leveled at Omar, who is Muslim. Earlier Monday, Trump said Omar supported al-Qaida and "hates Jews."
Omar said Monday that she would not respond to the president's allegation about al-Qaida, saying that "every single Muslim who has lived in this country and across the world has heard that comment."
But she said his comments overall were designed to drive a wedge between Americans.
"This is the only way he knows he can prevent the solidarity of us working together across all of our differences," Omar said. "The only way to prevent us from confronting the problems our country is facing, whether it is health care, climate change, student debt or our endless wars."
The four lawmakers, commonly known as "the squad," have drawn the attention not just of Trump and the Republican Party but also of Democratic leadership. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has at times attempted to minimize the influence of the four Democrats, who are ideologically to her left.
"All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world," she told The New York Times for an article published earlier this month. "But they didn't have any following. They're four people and that's how many votes they got."
Trump's remarks pushed Pelosi to rally behind her fellow Democrats, though. On Monday, Pelosi sent a letter to Democrats calling on them to join in passing a resolution to condemn the president's remarks.
Pressley said at the news conference that the four Democrats were more powerful than the size of their group let on.
"Despite the occupant of the White House's attempts to marginalize us, and to silence us, please know, that we are more than four people," Pressley said. "We ran on a mandate to advocate for and represent those left out and left behind. Our squad is big. Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world, and that is the work we want to give back to. And given the size of this squad, and this great nation, we cannot — we will not — be silenced."
Shortly before the news conference began, Trump unloaded a series of tweets apparently directed at the four congresswomen, in which he accused "certain people" of being "anti-Israel, pro Al-Qaeda" and promoting "drugs, crime, human trafficking, and much more."
"We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE!" Trump wrote.