WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump moved to galvanize his core supporters Wednesday after sparking outrage with attacks on ethnic minority Democrats whom he accused of hating America and urged to "go back" to other countries.
As controversy raged over Trump's four-day assault on the liberal congresswomen, further turmoil was expected in Congress with one lawmaker forcing a vote, slated for later Wednesday, on whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president.
Trump, eager to marshal his base, tweeted that he would discuss "people who love, and hate, our Country" at an evening rally in Greenville, North Carolina -- his first since announcing his 2020 re-election bid.
The president's appearance comes a day after a stunning repudiation by the House of Representatives of his "racist comments" targeting four first-term progressive lawmakers and use of hostile language targeting immigrants.
While Trump's characteristically divisive rhetoric has enraged liberals, just four Republicans voted with the 235 Democrats to condemn him for "racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color."
Democratic leaders denounced Trump's remarks and rallied around the lawmakers -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley.
All are American citizens and Omar, who is of Somali origin, is the only one of the four born outside the US.
Trump's attacks, beginning at the weekend and continuing through the week with taunts like "if you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!" -- and the Democratic response have laid bare deep partisan rifts in Washington.
The uproar has distracted lawmakers from other crucial issues such as the treatment of undocumented migrants at the border, and looming deadlines to raise the debt ceiling and reach a 2020 budget deal.
'THOSE WORDS ARE RACISM'
It has led one Democratic congressman, Al Green of Texas, to force an impeachment vote.
The effort is likely to fail, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposes impeachment.
"We have six committees who are working on following the facts in terms of any abuse of power, obstruction of justice and the rest," she said of congressional investigations of the president, including on Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
But Pelosi sounded unsure of how the House would dismiss Green's measure, whether by killing it outright or referring it to a committee.
"I don't know what we will do, but we'll deal with it on the floor," she said.
She did however stand by a resolution condemning Trump's language. "By its definition, those words are racism," she said.
Trump has a long history of pandering to white grievance, and the resolution criticized him for "saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants... do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America."
As the 2020 election nears, Trump has signaled he will reprise the divisive strategy that helped capture the White House in 2016.
Trump gave credence to the notion that his attacks are part of a strategy to sully Democrats as a whole as "socialist," as he cited his improving poll numbers.
"Thank you to the vicious young Socialist Congresswomen," he tweeted. "America will never buy your act!"
His approval rating among Republicans rose five points to 72 percent, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Monday and Tuesday.
But his latest outbursts may backfire. A new poll released Wednesday shows that 59 percent of Americans believe his tweets were "un-American."
According to the USAToday/Ipsos poll, two-thirds agree that telling minority Americans to "go back to where they came from" is racist.
Some GOP members sought to soften Trump's message.
"Our opposition to our socialist colleagues has absolutely nothing to do with their gender, with their religion or with their race," congresswoman Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, said Tuesday. "It has to do with the content of their policies."
Trump, who before becoming president pushed the racist "birther" conspiracy that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, insisted his tweets "were NOT Racist. I don't have a Racist bone in my body!"
Many in the crowded Democratic presidential nomination field assailed Trump for his language, including liberal senator Bernie Sanders.
"We have an overt racist and bigot as president," Sanders told CNN. "He is a racist trying to divide the American people up."
© Agence France-Presse