President Donald Trump has assailed a group of Democratic congresswomen of colour as foreign-born troublemakers who should go back to the "broken and crime infested places from which they came", ignoring the fact that the women are American citizens and all but one was born in the US
Trump's tweets on Sunday drew a sharp rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said the president wants to "make America white again".
Republican Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a Trump critic who recently took steps to leave his party, called the remarks "racist and disgusting".
Trump was almost certainly referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and her allies in what's become known as the squad.
The others are Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Only Omar, from Somalia, is foreign-born.
With his remarks, Trump again inserted himself into a rift between Pelosi and the liberal congresswomen, after offering an unsolicited defence of the Democratic Speaker days earlier.
Pelosi has been seeking to minimise Ocasio-Cortez's influence in recent days, prompting Ocasio-Cortez to accuse Pelosi of trying to marginalise women of colour. "She is not a racist," Trump said on Friday.
On Sunday, Trump's tone changed.
"So interesting to see 'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run," he said in tweets.
"Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."
He added: "These places need your help badly, you can't leave fast enough. I'm sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!"
Pelosi has feuded with the group in an increasingly bitter intra-party fight, but came to their defence on Sunday along with other Democratic colleagues. She called Trump's comments "xenophobic".
"When @realDonaldTrump tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to 'Make America Great Again' has always been about making America white again," she said on Twitter on Sunday.
"Do I fit into the President's category?" US Senator Dick Durbin said on CBS's Face the Nation, mentioning his family's Lithuanian heritage.
"Thanks goodness," he said of Omar's journey from refugee to one of only two Muslim women elected to congress, along with Tlaib, a native of Detroit.
"That is what America holds as a dream. The president should not diminish it."
Australian Associated Press