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“What’s your ethnicity?”: Kellyanne Conway’s defense of Trump’s racism isn’t helping

When the quiet part becomes very loud.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway speaking to reporters, with photographers behind her.
Conway speaks outside the White House on Tuesday.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway went as far as to grill a Jewish reporter about his own racial background while defending racist tweets and statements President Donald Trump made about four Democratic women of color.

“What’s your ethnicity?” Conway asked Breakfast Media White House reporter Andrew Feinberg, after he asked her during a media availability outside the White House, “if the president was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, to which countries was he referring?” Feinberg’s question pertained to statements Conway made earlier during the press gaggle in which she suggested the media was misinterpreting Trump’s comments by imputing a racial meaning to them.

Feinberg responded to Conway’s question by asking, “Why is that relevant?” Conway, without prompting, disclosed that her “ancestors are from Ireland and Italy.”

“He said originally,” Conway added, referring to Trump’s statements. “He said ‘originally from.’”


Trump tweeted on Sunday that four Democrats, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib — sometimes known as “the squad” — should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” (All are US citizens and three were born on US soil; Omar immigrated legally from Somalia when she was 10 years old.) He’s since gone even further by baselessly suggesting Omar sympathizes with al-Qaeda while the rest of the women have made “pro-terrorist” statements.

Trump’s comments have obviously resulted in White House officials having some explaining to do. But rather than trying to distance herself from or explain away Trump’s comments, Conway’s line of questioning ended up taking things to an ugly new level.

Reached for comment later Tuesday, Feinberg told Vox he didn’t think Conway was trying to refer to his Jewish ancestry, but was “deflecting by asking my family’s ethnic background.” He said he didn’t think Conway was trying to be anti-Semitic.

Asked what he thought the point of her question was, Feinberg said he didn’t know but “was glad she could confirm what the President meant with his ‘go back’ comment after denying it had a racial/ethnic aspect moments before.”

After inquiring about Feinberg’s ethnicity, Conway also seemed to lose the thread of what she was trying to say and instead went on an angry rant about how “a lot of us are sick and tired of this country — of America coming last.”

On Tuesday afternoon — as her question to Feinberg was being widely criticized online — Conway posted a tweet trying to explain that she meant “no disrespect.”

“We are all from somewhere else ‘originally,’” she added. “I asked the question to answer the question and volunteered my own ethnicity: Italian and Irish ... Like many, I am proud of my ethnicity, love the USA & grateful to God to be an American.”

Notably, however, Conway’s sentiments are not in step with the comments made by her boss that she was trying to defend — namely, that brown and black people, including refugees who have since become naturalized citizens and are serving in Congress, are somehow less American than others.

Trump has no regrets

A number of Republicans have publicly denounced Trump’s comments about the so-called “squad” but Trump is doubling and tripling down.

During a media availability shortly after the Conway-Feinberg exchange, Trump was asked if he’d “be willing to not use the phrase ‘go back to your country’ to citizens and women of color who are either citizens or have been born in this country. Would you be willing to not use that?”

Trump didn’t answer the question, but instead said, “I think it’s terrible when people speak so badly about our country ... it’s my opinion they hate our country.”

Meanwhile, Politico reports that House Republican leadership is formally recommending that members — some of whom have already publicly denounced Trump’s comments as racist — vote against a symbolic resolution condemning Trump’s tweets.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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