Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstAcosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden looks to rebound after tough week Democratic Senate hopes hinge on Trump tide MORE (R-Iowa) said Monday that she thinks President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN’s Camerota clashes with Trump’s immigration head over president’s tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump ‘Bigot-in-Chief’ Trump complains of ‘fake polls’ after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE’s tweets suggesting that minority Democratic lawmakers “go back” to the countries they came from was racist.

Ernst was pressed by reporters about Trump’s tweets from the weekend when she walked into a weekly leadership meeting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE’s (R-Ky.) office.

Asked if she thought Trump’s comments were specifically racist, Ernst acknowledged, “Yeah, I do.”  

She reiterated that view when asked on another occasion by a CNN reporter if she found Trump’s comments racist.

“Uh, yeah. They’re American citizens,” she said, referring to Trump’s suggestion that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHillary Clinton responds to Trump tweets telling Dem lawmakers to ‘go back’ to their countries Trump doubles down after telling Democratic congresswomen to ‘go back’ to their countries #RacistInChief takes off on Twitter after Trump tells Dems to go back where they ‘came from’ MORE (N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarLA Times editorial board labels Trump ‘Bigot-in-Chief’ NYT’s Friedman repeatedly says ‘s—hole’ in tirade against Trump on CNN Foreign-born lawmaker: Trump’s not going to tell me to ‘go back to my country’ MORE (Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibKasich calls on Republicans to condemn ‘deplorable’ Trump tweets LA Times editorial board labels Trump ‘Bigot-in-Chief’ NYT’s Friedman repeatedly says ‘s—hole’ in tirade against Trump on CNN MORE (Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyKasich calls on Republicans to condemn ‘deplorable’ Trump tweets LA Times editorial board labels Trump ‘Bigot-in-Chief’ NYT’s Friedman repeatedly says ‘s—hole’ in tirade against Trump on CNN MORE (Mass.), who all identify as racial minorities, go back to the counties they’re from.

Of that group, only Omar, a native of Somalia, was born outside the United States.  

Ernst also called the comments “not constructive” and “not helpful.”

Like other Republicans, she said Trump should focus on policies instead of personal attacks.

“Let’s focus on policies and we can debate those policies because I personally think the GOP has a stronger platform to talk about. That’s what we should be focusing on,” she said.

Ernst, a first-term member of the Senate, is up for reelection next year and Democrats think they have a shot of defeating her if Trump underperforms expectations.

She has distanced herself from Trump on other occasions, such as earlier this year when she warned Trump not to trust North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnA brief timeline of Trump’s clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Stephen King says Trump’s presidency is ‘scarier’ than his novels Trump boasts that Kim Jong Un ‘was so happy to see me’ MORE or when she has criticized his tariff policy.

Ernst said Monday that she had not spoken to Trump about his tweets. 

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