WASHINGTON : Starkly injecting race into his criticism of liberal Democrats, US President Donald Trump said four congresswomen of colour should go back to the “broken and crime infested" countries they came from, ignoring the fact that all of the women are American citizens and three were born in the US. His attack drew a searing condemnation from Democrats who labelled the remarks racist and breathtakingly divisive.

Following a familiar script, Republicans remained largely silent after Trump’s Sunday morning broadsides against the four women. But the president’s nativist tweets caused Democrats to set aside their internal rifts to rise up in a united chorus against the president.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump wants to “make America white again". Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, after jousting for days with Pelosi, said Trump “can’t conceive of an America that includes us".

Trump, who has a long history of making racist remarks, was almost certainly referring to Ocasio-Cortez and her House allies in what’s come to be known as “the squad". The others are Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Only Omar, from Somalia, is foreign-born.

Ocasio-Cortez swiftly denounced his remarks. “Mr. President, the country I ‘come from,’ & the country we all swear to, is the United States," she tweeted, adding that “You rely on a frightened America for your plunder." Omar also addressed herself directly to Trump in a tweet, writing: “You are stoking white nationalism (because) you are angry that people like us are serving in Congress and fighting against your hate-filled agenda."

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, summed up the Democratic response: “Racial arsonist strikes again. Shut. Your. Reckless. Mouth."

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the language used by Trump in his series of tweets on the Democratic congresswomen was “completely unacceptable".

With his tweet, Trump inserted himself further into a rift between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez, just two days after he offered an unsolicited defence of the Democratic speaker. Pelosi has been seeking to minimize Ocasio-Cortez’s influence in the House Democratic caucus in recent days, prompting Ocasio-Cortez to accuse Pelosi of trying to marginalize women of colour. “She is not a racist," Trump said of Pelosi on Friday.

Former vice-president Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential front-runner, tweeted Sunday that Trump “continues to spew hateful rhetoric, sow division, and stoke racial tensions for his own political gain."

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