SALT LAKE CITY — For state lawmaker Sandra Hollins, President Donald Trump's escalating attacks against a group of liberal minority Democratic congresswomen that are being described as racist sounded all too familiar.
"As a black woman who has been told on multiple occasions that I should go back to Africa, I recognize it for what it is," she said. "It's a whistle call for his base, to get them riled up for the 2020 election and showing them he supports them."
Hollins, a Democrat from Salt Lake City and the only black member of the Utah Legislature, said she was outraged that Trump tweeted this weekend that the four first-term U.S. representatives, all Americans, should "go back" to their homelands.
"But was I surprised? No, absolutely not. It's just a pattern from this president, his racist comments," she said, adding that many Utahns "want to hear it called out, but we do have people in this state that support him and agree with what he's saying."
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake branch, said she's "very concerned about the level of hatred he is spreading around" and that Utah's leaders "should be saying that this has to stop. They need to denounce his words."
However, many of Utah's GOP political leaders had little to say even as Trump tweeted again Monday about "foul language & racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular & unrepresentative Congresswomen."
Even after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced a resolution against Trump was being drafted, Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, along with Utah Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and John Curtis, had no comment.
The governor's office said only, "we seldom comment on the president's tweets."
One of the few Republicans in Congress willing to talk about Trump's continued attacks, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, avoided using the word "racist" to describe the president's words.
"The president's comments were destructive, demeaning and disunifying. The president of the United States has a unique and noble calling to unite the American people — of all different races, colors and national origins," he said in a statement.
"In that respect, the president failed badly," Romney said. "People can disagree over politics and policy, but telling American citizens to go back to where they came from is over the line."
Romney told Politico that such comments can be "dangerous." He said if the Senate were to consider condemning the president's statements, the senator has "certainly indicated what I believe, so if that were to come, people know where I stand."
Earlier, Romney said in an interview with an NBC reporter from Boston, "I certainly feel a number of these new members of Congress have views that are not consistent with my experience and not consistent with building a strong America."
The only Democratic member of Utah's congressional delegation, Rep. Ben McAdams, said in a statement that the president's "tweet was offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds."
"Divisiveness is wrong and distracts from our work for the American people. The more time we spend talking about offensive tweets from politicians, the less time we spend finding solutions," McAdams said.
"Our country has serious challenges and I intend to spend my time working with sincere policymakers from both parties to find solutions,” he said.
But his spokeswoman, Alyson Heyrend, said "it's too soon to respond" to a question about whether McAdams would support the House resolution being put together by Pelosi.
Trump told reporters at a White House event that he didn't care about the criticism he was getting.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” the president said. “And all I’m saying — they want to leave, they can leave.”
The president's comments have been directed toward four Democrats: New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
Trump, who had tweeted the congresswomen known as "the squad" should apologize to the United States, Israel and to him, said they "hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.”
All of them are U.S. citizens and only Omar was born outside the United States, in Somalia, and became a citizen in 2000 as a teenager.190 comments on this story
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant, whose father came to the United States from Pakistan, said the state's leaders need to speak out against the president's statement.
"Beyond all of the racism and all of the just inaccuracies of his statements he's making, these are not statements Americans should be making," Merchant said. "It's just downright an abomination of what we as Utahns feel are our values."
He noted Herbert has spoken out before against the president's immigration policies.
"This is not a hard thing for the governor to talk about," Merchant said. "Where is he now?"