WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is amplifying remarks deemed as racist attacks on four Democratic members of Congress, all women of color, and is rejecting widespread criticism that his comments run counter to American values.
"It doesn't concern me," Trump told reporters on Monday, "because many people agree with me."
The president said of the lawmakers: "If they're not happy here, they can leave," adding, "these are people that hate our country."
On Twitter Sunday, Trump told the lawmakers to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came," even though three of the four were born in the United States, and the fourth emigrated from Somalia but is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Asked on Monday whether his comments were racist, Trump told White House reporters, "Not at all."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is among those characterizing the president's comments as "disgusting attacks."
"The House cannot allow the President's characterization of immigrants to our country to stand. Our Republican colleagues must join us in condemning the President's xenophobic tweets," Pelosi said in calling for support for a House resolution to condemn Trump's tweets.
Most lawmakers of the president's party have stayed silent on the controversy. But four Republican senators - Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Mitt Romney of Utah - are criticizing Trump's remarks.
"The president has a unique and noble calling to unite the American people," Romney, a former Republican presidential nominee, told reporters. "In that regard, he failed badly this weekend and continued to do so today."
"There is no excuse for the president's spiteful comments - they were absolutely unacceptable and this needs to stop," Murkowski tweeted.
"President Trump was wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from," said Toomey in a statement. "The citizenship of all four is as valid as mine."
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who golfed with Trump over the weekend, said the president should "aim higher" with his criticism of the four, even as the lawmaker disparaged their views.
On Fox News, Graham said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York "and this crowd are a bunch of communists" who "hate Israel. They hate our own country. They're calling the guards along our border, the border control agents, concentration camp guards. They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins (money). They're anti-Semitic. They're anti-America."
Trump, on Twitter Monday, renewed his attacks on Ocasio-Cortez (a native New Yorker); Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Somali native; Massachusetts Rep. Ayana Pressley, who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio; and Michigan Rep. Rashid Tlaib, who was born in Detroit.
"When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said," Trump tweeted. "So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!"
A prominent U.S.-based anti-hate Jewish group is condemning the president's attempt to use Jews as a shield.
"As Jews, we are all too familiar with this kind of divisive prejudice," said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League. "While ADL has publicly disagreed with these congresswomen on some issues, the president is echoing the racist talking points of white nationalists and cynically using the Jewish people and the state of Israel as a shield to double down on his remarks."
The four female legislators, who are politically to the left of Pelosi, have squabbled with the House speaker over immigration policy and other issues. The dispute has attracted Trump's attention in recent days, even prompting him to utter rare public support for Pelosi - at least when it comes to her attempt to rein in the newly elected foursome.
On Monday, however, after she said it would be better to rephrase Trump's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" to "Make America White Again," the president called that "a very racist statement."
Trump's first tweets about the minority congresswomen, known as "the squad," came shortly after a segment about them on the Fox News Channel. The president frequently reacts quickly on social media to what he sees on Fox, his favorite news channel.
Omar, in particular, has been a frequent topic of critical coverage on the cable television channel, in part due to her frequent criticism of Israel and comments perceived as anti-Semitic.
Omar and Tlaib are the first two Muslim women in history to serve in Congress.
In a Twitter response to Trump on Sunday, Omar reminded him that the United States is the only country to which members of Congress swear an oath.
"Which is why we are fighting to protect it from the worst, most corrupt and inept president we have ever seen," she added.
"You are angry because you can't conceive of an America that includes us," Ocasio-Cortez responded to Trump on Twitter. "You rely on a frightened America for your plunder."