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Responding to President Trump's dubious claims that he tried to stop a racist chant directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar at his rally Wednesday night, 2020 candidate Sen. Kamala Harris condemned the president's "empty words" and argued that he is nothing compared to a "real American leader like John McCain."

"I just think they're empty words, Jake. The chant was created not by the crowd, but by the president's tweets, and it's obvious, it's really not a debatable point. And I think it is clearly not a sign of real leadership. I think you have mentioned it. Contrast it with a real American leader like John McCain, who during the campaign in 2008, he stood up, he spoke up. He was -- you know, he understood as an American hero, that the voice of someone who wants to be, much less is the president of the United States, must be about elevating discourse, that is about speaking to our better selves. This president keeps finding new lows. I would like to say it's shocking, but at some point it's sadly predictable."

Flashback: In 2008, McCain — a sworn enemy of Trump's even after his death — shot down claims by a supporter that President Obama couldn't be trusted as president because he was "an Arab."

  • "No ma'am," McCain told the supporter. "No ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about."

The big picture: A number of Republicans have criticized Trump for his recent racist tweets about 4 Democratic women of color, urging him to attack their policies instead. The chant about Omar, a Muslim woman who came to the U.S. as a teenage refugee, has prompted a new wave of outcry. Even Trump on Thursday attempted to distance himself from the crowd's ugly words, claiming that he "wasn't happy with that message they gave last night" — despite using similar language in his tweets.

Go deeper: Trump says he disagrees with "send her back" chants about Ilhan Omar

Go deeper

Senate retirements could attract GOP troublemakers

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Roy Blunt's retirement highlights the twin challenge facing Senate Republicans: finding good replacement candidates and avoiding a pathway for potential troublemakers to join their ranks.

Why it matters: While the midterm elections are supposed to be a boon to the party out of power, the recent run of retirements — which may not be over — is upending that assumption for the GOP in 2022.

Congressional diversity growing - slowly

Data: Brookings Institution and Pew Research Center; Note: No data on Native Americans in Congress before the 107th Congress; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The number of non-white senators and House members in the 535-seat Congress has been growing steadily in the past several decades — but representation largely lags behind the overall U.S. population.

Why it matters: Non-whites find it harder to break into the power system because of structural barriers such as the need to quit a job to campaign full time for office, as Axios reported in its latest Hard Truths Deep Dive.

Staff for retiring Senate Republicans a K Street prize

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The retirements of high-profile Senate Republicans mean a lot of experienced staffers will soon be seeking new jobs, and Washington lobbying and public affairs firms are eyeing a potential glut of top-notch talent.

Why it matters: Roy Blunt is the fifth Republican dealmaker in the Senate to announce his retirement next year. Staffers left behind who can navigate the upper chamber of Congress will be gold for the city’s influence industry.