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Trump joins GOP criticism of Rep. Tlaib over remarks on Holocaust, Israel

President Donald Trump. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

WASHINGTON President Trump joined prominent House Republicans on Monday in condemning Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., for recent comments on the Holocaust and Israel that the freshman lawmaker says have been deliberately distorted to ignite attacks against her.

"Democrat Rep. Tlaib is being slammed for her horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust," Trump said in a tweet. "She obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people. Can you imagine what would happen if I ever said what she said, and says?"

His tweet prompted a response from Tlaib, who said in a statement that Trump "has doubled down on his party's use of the Holocaust to score political points."

"Instead of recognizing that the accusations against me are false and that my words have been blatantly misconstrued, Trump has once again used his platform to incite hate and violence based on lies," Tlaib said.

The controversy was sparked by an interview published Saturday on Yahoo News's "Skullduggery" podcast during which Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, was asked about her support for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tlaib began her response by noting that the United States commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day two weeks earlier. She then discussed her Palestinian ancestors and the founding of the state of Israel, saying she was "humbled by the fact that it was my ancestors that had to suffer" to create a safe haven for the Jewish people.

"There's, you know, there's a kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors - Palestinians - who lost their land, and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence, in many ways, had been wiped out . . . I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time," Tlaib said.

She added that the events of the past have informed her views on how to approach a solution to the conflict.

"I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that [safe haven], in many ways," Tlaib said. "But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right? And it was forced on them. And so, when I think about one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn't we do it in a better way?"

Tlaib's comments were picked up by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which published an article with the headline, "Tlaib Says She Is Humbled Her Ancestors Provided 'Safe Haven' for Jews After Holocaust."

On Sunday, two of the top House Republicans criticized Tlaib's use of the phrase "calming feeling," falsely accusing her of using the phrase to describe her views about the Holocaust itself.

"There is no justification for the twisted and disgusting comments made by Rashida Tlaib just days after the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said in a statement. "More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing 'calming' about that fact."

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, issued a statement describing Tlaib's remarks as "sickening."

"I call on Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer to finally take action against Representative Tlaib and other members of the Democratic caucus who are spreading vile anti-Semitism," she said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

On Sunday night, Tlaib accused the GOP lawmakers of deliberately distorting her words.

"Policing my words, twisting & turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work," she said in a tweet. "All of you who are trying to silence me will fail miserably. I will never allow you to take my words out of context to push your racist and hateful agenda. The truth will always win."

Denzel McCampbell, Tlaib's spokesman, condemned Cheney's statement as "dangerous." Cheney was the first GOP leader to criticize Tlaib on Sunday.

"Once again, Republican leaders and right-wing extremists are spreading outright lies to incite hate," McCampbell said in a statement.

McCampbell also maintained that Tlaib "did not in any way praise the Holocaust, nor did she say the Holocaust itself brought a calming feeling to her."

"In fact, she repeatedly called the Holocaust a tragedy and a horrific persecution of Jewish people," he said.

On Monday, Democrats, by and large, rallied behind Tlaib - including some who have criticized Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., for previous comments that have been interpreted as anti-Semitic. They said, some privately and others publicly, that Republicans had badly twisted Tlaib's words.

"Republicans' desperate attempts to smear @RepRashida & misrepresent her comments are outrageous. President @realDonaldTrump & House GOP should apologize to Rep. Tlaib & the American people for their gross misrepresentations," Pelosi said in a tweet.

Hoyer said Trump and congressional Republicans had taken Tlaib's comments out of context. "They must stop, and they owe her an apology," Hoyer said in a statement.

Cheney doubled down on her criticism in a tweet Monday morning that included a truncated quote from Tlaib that made it appear she said thinking of the Holocaust gives her a "calming feeling."

"And her 'history' of what happened after is a fantasy based on lies spread to delegitimize the state of Israel," Cheney added in the tweet.

In her statement Monday night, Tlaib said it was "shameful that right-wing extremists and GOP leadership, including President Trump, have twisted and misconstrued my words to spread falsehoods rooted in hate."

"The Holocaust was a horrific persecution of Jewish people and should be remembered as such, nothing short of that," she said.

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The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

This article was written by John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez, reporters for The Washington Post.