Some Republicans who typically keep tight-lipped about President Donald Trump's Twitter habits spoke out Monday about his incendiary comments attacking four Democratic congresswomen, saying he crossed a line.
"There is no excuse for the president’s spiteful comments — they were absolutely unacceptable and this needs to stop," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, tweeted.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio also offered a tough but terse statement.
"That's not something I would say, and I think it's divisive, unnecessary and wrong," Portman said.
Trump had tweeted Sunday that Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts should "go back" to the "totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." On Monday, he continued the attack, saying the four women of color "are people who in my opinion hate our country."
Republican Rep. Will Hurd of Texas told CNN the comments are "racist and xenophobic. They're also inaccurate, right? The four women he’s referring to are actually citizens of the United States. Three of the four were born here. It’s also behavior that's unbecoming of the leader of the free world. He should be talking about things that unite us, not divides us."
Hurd, who's criticized Trump previously over his border wall stance, also noted the attacks didn't make sense politically, because the four had been butting heads with fellow Democrat and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just last week.
"While you had a civil war going on between the Democratic party, between the far left and the rest of the party, and now they have circled the wagons and are starting to protect one another," he said.
Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan tweeted that he was "appalled by the President's tweets. There’s no excuse. Inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the aisle that is used to divide us just isn’t right. It’s not helpful. We have too many challenges facing us..."
Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania was the first Republican senator to speak out about the tweets, saying, "... I couldn’t disagree more with these congresswomen’s views on immigration, socialism, national security and virtually every policy issue. But they are entitled to their opinions, however misguided they may be. We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry."
Other Republicans made sure to criticize the congressional quartet as they chided the president.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., tweeted that "While I strongly disagree with the tactics, policies, and rhetoric of the far-left socialist 'Squad,' the President’s tweets were inappropriate, denigrating, and wrong. It is unacceptable to tell legal U.S. citizens to go back to their home country."
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah — a former Republican presidential nominee who'd vowed to speak out in January about "significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions" — was far more measured.
“It’s important for the president to bring us together and that’s not what’s happening," Romney told NBC News. "I know that in Washington the rhetoric is hot but, my goodness, we expect more from the president, we expect the kind of leadership that’s associated with the highest office in the land.”
He would not, however, go so far as to call the tweets racist.
“Um, you know, a lot of people have been using the word and my view is that what was said and what was tweeted was destructive, was demeaning, was disunifying, and frankly it was very wrong,” Romney said.
The Republican leadership was silent on the controversy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would answer questions Tuesday.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin offered a quick defense of the president at the White House before trying to move on.
"I don’t find them racist, the president just went on and clarified his comments," Mnuchin said after Trump's White House remarks. "I think he speaks for himself on that and he was very clear but again we’re focused on cryptocurrencies."
Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows said, "I don't get involved in a critiquing tweets from the Democrats or the Republicans," but "I can say that the frustration that the President expressed is more out of having a crisis at the border."