US president Donald Trump on Sunday stepped up his attacks on four liberal Democrats in Congress, who have become known as "The Squad", calling on them to apologise as he himself faced charges of racism.
The Republican president's incendiary comments dovetail with the anti-immigrant stance he has embraced since his 2016 campaign for the White House, which included saying Mexico was sending rapists into the country and seeking to ban people from Muslim-majority nations.
“I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country. They should apologise to America (and Israel) for the horrible (hateful) things they have said,” Trump said in a Twitter post.
Trump ignited controversy last weekend when he tweeted that the Democratic congresswomen should "go back" to where they came from if they do not like the United States.
Three of the politicians – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – were born in the United States. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota came as a refugee from Somalia and is a naturalised citizen.
The first-term congresswomen have been very critical of Trump and have also challenged their own Democratic leadership.
Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives oversight committee, denounced Mr Trump's latest attack and said he had "no doubt" that Mr Trump was a racist.
“These are folks and women who love their country and they work very hard and they want to move us towards that more perfect union that our founding fathers talked about,” Mr Cummings, who is African-American, said on ABC’s This Week.
“So when you disagree with the president, suddenly you’re a bad person. Our allegiance is not to the president. Our allegiance is to the Constitution of the United States of America and to the American people.”
A day after saying his audience at a campaign rally in North Carolina went too far in chanting "Send her back!" about Ms Omar, Trump on Friday defended the crowd members as "incredible patriots".
Ms Omar said after Wednesday night’s rally Mr Trump was “spewing fascist ideology”. On Saturday, Ms Ocasio-Cortez accused him of intentionally adding to the vitriol, pausing while the crowd chanted.
“Roll back the tape . . . He relished it. He took it in and he’s doing this intentionally,” she said at a town hall meeting on immigration in Queens.
Stephen Miller, Mr Trump's top immigration adviser, said the president made clear he disagreed with the "Send her back" chants.
“The core issue is that all the people in that audience, and millions of patriotic Americans all across this country, are tired of being beat up, condescended to, looked down upon, talked down to by members of Congress on the left in Washington, DC, and their allies in many quarters of the media,” he said on Fox News Sunday. – Reuters