WASHINGTON • The US House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to condemn comments by President Donald Trump that have been criticised as racist, with some Democrats complaining that party leaders are not punching back hard enough.
The 240-187 vote backed a resolution that "strongly condemns President Trump's racist comments that have legitimised and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour".
Several Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure.
As the top House Republican dismissed the planned vote as "all politics", Mr Trump earlier on Tuesday continued his attacks on the four freshmen Democrats who have been the focus of the President's ire.
Before the House vote, though, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was called out by Republicans for violating a House rule that prohibits calling the President a racist or saying his statements were racist.
The Democratic-controlled chamber voted 232-190 against striking her remarks from the record, and the Speaker told reporters she stood by her statements.
The President started the controversy on Sunday by tweeting that the four lawmakers, all women of colour, should "go back" to the countries they "originally came from", instead of telling Americans "how our government is to be run".
On Tuesday, Mr Trump said on Twitter: "Those tweets were not racist. I don't have a racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game."
Later, at a Cabinet meeting, the President said of the four women lawmakers: "It's my opinion they hate our country."
All four of the women - Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan - are US citizens, and all but Ms Omar were born in the US.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez, in her own tweet on Tuesday, reminded Mr Trump that she was born in his hometown of New York City, and said Mr Trump may not have racist bones, but that he does have "a racist mind" and "a racist heart".
JUST A CON GAME
Those tweets were not racist. I don't have a racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game.
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, in a tweet on Tuesday, to which New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez retorted that he may not have racist bones, but he does have "a racist mind" and "a racist heart".
The vote came against a backdrop of the 2020 campaign for the White House and Congress. Mr Trump won the presidential election in part by exploiting anti-immigrant sentiments among some voters, and it is a message he has stuck to through his first term.
Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to harness the energy of female and minority voters who helped them win control of the House last year and flip local and state offices in key swing states such as Wisconsin and Michigan.
Mr Trump has indicated that he regards the controversy as a winner for him. Asked if he was concerned his tweet was seen as racist and that white nationalists found common cause with him, he said no. "It doesn't concern me because many people agree with me," he said.
Ms Pelosi, in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning with fellow Democrats, urged them to unify behind the condemnation measure and to back the four women, with whom she has had her own recent disagreements. She referred to them as "our sisters", according to an aide in the room.
Some Democrats say Mr Trump's tweets have benefited Ms Pelosi by unifying the party and helping her move past her own public squabbles with the same four women. "I think the longer that he does things like that, the easier it is for her to bring the caucus together on our main priorities," said Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois.
Some Democrats complained that Ms Pelosi and party leaders - whom they said are already pulling their punches by not pursuing impeachment of Mr Trump - were doing so again by not bringing a formal censure resolution to the House floor. They said that would send a stronger message as the House has only rarely taken such action against a sitting president.
But Democrat Dan Kildee of Michigan said a censure resolution would be less likely to get Republican support. "Where I come from, people want to know whether we are standing up to the President or not," he said. "And what word we attach to it is probably not that significant."