Four US congresswomen who were attacked by US President Donald Trump in tweets widely called racist have dismissed his remarks as a distraction.
Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib urged the US people “not to take the bait” at a Monday press conference.
Mr Trump suggested the four women – all US citizens – “can leave”.
He has defended his comments and denied allegations of racism.
Addressing reporters, the four women all said the focus should be on policy and not the president’s words.
“This is simply a disruption and a distraction from the callous chaos and corrupt culture of this administration, all the way down,” Ms Pressley said.
Both Ms Omar and Ms Tlaib repeated their calls for Mr Trump to be impeached.
Their response comes after Mr Trump launched a Twitter tirade on Sunday, telling the four women – three of whom were born in the US and one, Ms Omar, who was born in Somalia – to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”.
His remarks have been widely condemned as racist and xenophobic.
What did the congresswomen say?
Ms Pressley dismissed the president’s efforts “to marginalise us and to silence us”, adding that they were “more than four people”.
“Our squad is big. Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world,” she said.
The four congresswomen, all newly elected in 2018, are sometimes referred to as The Squad.
All four women insisted that health care, gun violence, and in particular detentions of migrants on the US border with Mexico should be in focus.
“The eyes of history are watching us,” said Ms Omar said, decrying the “mass deportation raids” and “human rights abuses at the border”.
Ms Omar says Mr Trump’s “blatantly racist attack” on four women of colour was “the agenda of white nationalists”, adding that he would like “nothing more than to divide our country”.
Ms Tlaib called it “simply a continuation of his racist, xenophobic playbook”.
“We remain focused on holding him accountable to the laws of this land,” she said.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez meanwhile told a story about visiting Washington DC as a child, saying people should tell the young that “no matter what this president says, this country belongs to you”.
“We don’t leave the things that we love”, she said, adding that “weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policy”.
What is the row about?
On Friday, Ms Ocasio-Cortez, Ms Tlaib and Ms Pressley had testified to a House committee about conditions in a migrant detention centre they had visited.
Democrats have widely criticised the Trump administration’s approach to border control, saying they are holding migrants in inhumane conditions.
Mr Trump insists the border is facing a crisis and has defended the actions of his border agents. His administration announced a new rule to take effect on 16 July that denies asylum for anyone who crosses the southern border who did not apply for protection in “at least one third country” en route to the US.
After their testimony, Mr Trump insisted conditions at the centre had had “great reviews”. He then posted his series of tweets about the women and Ms Omar, attacks he redoubled on Monday.
How have Democrats and Republicans responded?
Democrats have roundly condemned the president, and have been joined by several Republicans.
Senator Tim Scott, the only African American Republican in the Senate, called the president’s words “racially offensive”. Republican Congressman Will Hurd, who is also African American, described the comments as “racist and xenophobic”.
After the press conference US Senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Mr Trump’s remarks “destructive, demeaning, and disunifying”.
“People can disagree over politics and policy, but telling American citizens to go back to where they came from is over the line,” he tweeted.
But Republican Congressman Andy Harris had earlier defended Mr Trump, telling WBAL radio: “Clearly it’s not a racist comment. He could have meant go back to the district they came from, the neighbourhood they came from.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a resolution in the House to condemn the “disgusting attacks”, which could reportedly be put to a vote as early as Tuesday.
Her colleague Chuck Schumer said he would introduce a similar motion in the Senate. “We’ll see how many Republicans sign on,” he tweeted.
How have world leaders reacted?
The leaders of several US allies have come out against the president.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she “completely and utterly” disagreed with Mr Trump, while Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau similarly denounced the comments.
“That is not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” he said at a press conference.
Both candidates for the British premiership condemned the attacks. Jeremy Hunt said he was “utterly appalled” by Mr Trump’s tweets, and Boris Johnson said “you simply cannot use that kind of language about sending people back to where they came from”.