US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks as, from left, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley listen during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. Image Credit: AP

WASHINGTON: Four liberal House Democrats on Monday lambasted President Trump’s tweets as “xenophobic,” “bigoted” and unworthy of the White House in an unusual standoff between first-year House lawmakers and a US president.

“This is the agenda of white nationalists,” said Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), who accused Trump of trying to distract the country from his policies. “We can continue to enable this president and report on the bile of garbage that comes out of his mouth or we can hold him accountable for his crimes.”

Omar and Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) — the unnamed targets of Trump’s weekend tweets, which have been widely condemned as racist — fired back in a 20-minute news conference in the US Capitol while simultaneously urging people not to “take the bait.”

Ocasio-Cortez said the president can’t defend his policies, “so what he does is attack us personally and that is what this is all about ... He can’t look a child in the face and look all Americans in the face to justify why this country is throwing [them] in cages.”

Omar, whom the president called without evidence an Al Qaeda sympathiser, refused to respond to the remark when questioned by reporters.

“I know that every single Muslim who has lived in this country and across the world has heard that comment so I will not dignify it with an answer because I know every single Islampphobe, every single person who is hateful, who is driven by an ideology of ‘othering,’ as this president is, rejoices in us responding to that and us defending ourselves,” she said.

The four have dubbed themselves “the squad,” a group of four progressive women of colour who have been bold in speaking out when they disagree with leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

Pressley said the four enjoy broad support.

“Despite the occupant of the White House’s attempt to marginalise us and silence us, please know we are more than four people,” Pressley said. “We ran on a mandate to represent those ... left behind.”