President Donald Trump has said a group of Democratic congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”, ignoring the fact the women are American citizens and all but one was born in the US.
Mr Trump’s tweets drew sharp rebukes from Democrats, who derided his remarks as racist.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president wants to “make America white again”.
Republican Representative Justin Amash, a Trump critic who recently took steps to leave his party, called the remarks “racist and disgusting”.
Mr Trump was almost certainly referring to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and her allies in what has become known as the squad.
The others are Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Only Ms Omar, from Somalia, is foreign-born.
Ms 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.
“You are angry because you can’t conceive of an America that includes us. You rely on a frightened America for your plunder.”
With his remarks, Mr Trump again inserted himself into a rift between Ms Pelosi and the liberal congresswomen, after offering an unsolicited defence of the Democratic speaker days earlier.
Ms Pelosi has been seeking to minimise Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s influence in recent days, prompting Ms Ocasio-Cortez to accuse Ms Pelosi of trying to marginalise women of colour.
“She is not a racist,” Mr Trump said on Friday.
On Sunday, Mr Trump’s tone changed.
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” he said in tweets.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
He added: “These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
The attacks may have been meant to further the divides within the Democrat caucus, strained over internal debates on liberal policies and on whether to proceed with impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump.
Instead, Democrats as one voice denounced the comments.
“Let’s be clear about what this vile comment is: A racist and xenophobic attack on Democratic congresswomen,” tweeted Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate.
Another 2020 contender, former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, tweeted at the president: “This is racist. These congresswomen are every bit as American as you – and represent our values better than you ever will.”
Few Republicans immediately weighed in on the president’s comments.
Shortly after the tweets, and a later post defending the harsh scenes at a border detention facility where hundreds of migrant men are being held in sweltering, foul-smelling conditions, Mr Trump left the White House to go golfing at his Virginia club.
Mr Trump appeared unbowed on Sunday night when he returned to Twitter to say it was “so sad” to see Democrats sticking up for the women.
“If the Democrat Party wants to continue to condone such disgraceful behavior,” he tweeted, “then we look even more forward to seeing you at the ballot box in 2020!”
It was far from the first time that Mr Trump has been accused of holding racist views.
His political career was launched on the back of falsely claiming that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
In his campaign kickoff in June 2015, he deemed many Mexican immigrants “rapists”.
And last year, during a White House meeting on immigration, he wondered why the United States was admitting so many immigrants from “shithole countries” such as Haiti, El Salvador and several African nations.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in suburban Westchester County.
Ms Pressley, the first black woman elected to the House from Massachusetts, was born in Cincinnati.
Ms Omar, the first Somali native elected to Congress and one of its first Muslim women, was born in Somalia but spent much of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp as civil war tore apart her home country.
She immigrated to the United States at age 12, teaching herself English by watching American TV and eventually settling with her family in Minneapolis.
Ms Tlaib was born in Detroit.