President Donald Trump has doubled down on his attacks against four minority US congresswomen and dismissed concerns his comments were racist, prompting outrage from Democrats, who moved to condemn him in the House of Representatives.
Speaking at the White House on Monday, Trump said 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 should go back to "the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came".
All four of the first-term House members are US citizens and all but one were born in the United States.
"If you're not happy in the US, 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."
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 news conference on Capitol Hill, the four lawmakers said Trump was trying to sow division and distract attention from what they characterised as failed policies on immigration, healthcare and taxation.
"Weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policy," Ocasio-Cortez said.
Tlaib and Omar repeated their calls for Trump to be impeached.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been criticised by members of "the squad", as the four members are known, said her party would introduce a resolution condemning Trump's "xenophobic tweets".
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 in effect 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 on to their seats in the 2020 election.
Trump has a history of what critics consider race-baiting. He led a movement that falsely claimed former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and he said after a deadly, white supremacist-led rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that "both sides" were to blame for violence there.
Although most Republicans stayed silent on Trump's divisive rhetoric, several began expressing concern late on Monday.
Texas Representative Will Hurd, the only African-American Republican in the House, told CNN: "The tweets are racist and xenophobic. They're also inaccurate."
Tim Scott, the Senate's only black Republican, criticised Trump in a tweet for using "unacceptable personal attacks and racially offensive language".
Senator Susan Collins, a centrist Republican up for re-election in Maine next year, called Trump's comments "way over the line" and said he should delete them.
None of the top four Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, made any immediate comment.
Australian Associated Press