Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer, who heads the House GOP’s campaign arm, told reporters on Thursday that “there’s no place” for such chants.
Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the crowd’s call was “ugly, wrong &would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers”.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was time to “lower the rhetoric” about racism.
However, he also rejected an assertion by Ocasio-Cortez that he helped further racism by not criticising recent comments by President Donald Trump.
The Kentucky Republican said on Thursday that the accusation was “nonsense” and he attended both Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and former president Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s.
But while Trump’s response to condemnation of his Sunday tweets was familiar – doubling down, with the support of an enthusiastic crowd – Wednesday’s chanting alarmed many observers who suggested the President’s invective could endanger the safety of the minority congresswomen and feed the country’s ugliest impulses.
“This is the sound of illiberalism, intolerance,” Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said on Twitter. “Listen closely: it’s a danger not just to immigrants and minorities but to all Americans.”
Thousands spoke out to support Omar under the hashtag #IStandWithIlhan. Democratic presidential candidates joined the condemnation, with Senator Kamala Harris calling the chant “vile”, “racist” and “cowardly” and Senator Bernie Sanders saying Trump is “stoking the most despicable and disturbing currents in our society”.
For many, the most concerning aspect was that the chant reflected the racist “go back to where you came from” trope used by Trump, showing how the President’s xenophobic rhetoric tends to reverberate with approval among certain groups in his base.
“Now they don’t even have the false pretext of alleged corrupt behaviour,” said Senator Brian Schatz, referring to the “Lock her up!” chants directed at Hillary Clinton during the campaign. “They are just telling an American with whom they disagree to go back to Africa.”
The chant broke out after Trump spent several minutes bashing Omar and suggesting she is un-American, building the momentum that would morph into shouting. He repeated the false claim that she has supported al-Qaeda and said she “minimised the September 11 attacks on our homeland”, referring to a previous comment of Omar’s.
“She looks down with contempt on hard-working Americans, saying that ‘ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country’,” Trump said just before the chant broke out.
Many of the President’s most reliable supporters insisted that neither his comments earlier this week nor the chant were racist, suggesting his true message is that Omar should leave because she is critical of America. But even some of Omar’s harshest conservative critics said Wednesday’s rally crossed the line.
Ryan Saavedra, a reporter at the conservative outlet the Daily Wire, told his followers that it’s “okay to be angry at Omar” but that “threats of violence and acts of violence are never okay”. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt called “send her back” a “nativist, terrible chant”.
“I’m very tough on Omar [because] she deserves it, on the merits. I am sickened by the hate-laced ‘send her back’ chants,” conservative commentator Guy Benson wrote. “Shame on every person who participated. POTUS has a responsibility to put an end to it. He alone has the ability to do so.”
Republican Congressman Mark Walker, from North Carolina, voiced more measured displeasure with the chant, while still accusing Omar of having “disdain” for America and Israel. Trump had invoked past criticism of Omar for comments she made about Israel that were called anti-Semitic by members of both parties; she has apologised for those comments and insisted her criticism of Israel is rooted in its treatment of the Palestinians, not anti-Semitism.
Omar responded on Twitter with a quote from Maya Angelou. “You may shoot me with your words/ You may cut me with your eyes/ You may kill me with your hatefulness/ But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
She then said: “I am where I belong, at the people’s house and you’re just gonna have to deal!”