President Donald Trump escalated his attacks against four minority U.S. congresswomen on Monday and dismissed concerns that his comments were racist.
This prompted outrage from Democrats, who moved to condemn him in the House of Representatives.
Trump said at the White House that the people he described as critical of the United States should leave the country.
Those remarks followed his Twitter messages on Sunday that said the four left-wing lawmakers, known in Congress as “the squad,” should go back to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
All four of the first-term House members are U.S. citizens and all but one were born in the United States.
“If you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, very simply: You can leave,” he said, drawing scattered applause from a crowd of businesspeople.
Asked if he was concerned that some viewed his remarks as racist and that white supremacists found common cause with him, Trump said he was not. “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump said.
The president’s remarks were widely derided and some, though not many, of his fellow Republicans spoke out against them.
Trump did not identify the lawmakers by name in his Sunday tweets, but he appeared to refer to representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
All four have been critical of Trump, as well as of the current Democratic leaders of the House, straining party unity in that chamber.
At a press conference on Capitol Hill, the four lawmakers said Trump was trying to sow division and distract attention from what they characterized as failed policies on immigration, health care and taxation.
“Weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policy,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Watch their press conference as tweeted by Ocasio-~Cortez:
“Weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policy.” — Rep. @AOCpic.twitter.com/rlSvdWctoV
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) July 15, 2019
Tlaib and Omar repeated their calls for Trump to be impeached.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been criticized by members of “the squad,” said her party would introduce a resolution condemning Trump’s “xenophobic tweets.” She did not say when a vote would occur.
Such a resolution could put Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress in an awkward position, forcing them either to vote against their party’s leader, who has strong support among conservatives, or effectively to defend his statements.
Trump’s attacks elevated the profiles of the four progressive Democrats, who have helped push the party’s agenda to the left, causing concern among Democratic moderates who are eager to hold onto their seats in the 2020 election.