President Donald Trump triggered outrage Tuesday by comparing the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry to a lynching, assigning the horrors of a deadly and racist chapter in US history to a process laid out in the Constitution.
"That is one word no President ought to apply to himself," said Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking African American in Congress. "That is a word that we ought to be very, very careful about using."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Trump's words "unfortunate."
"Given the history in our country, I would not compare this to a lynching," the Senate's top Republican told reporters. "That was an unfortunate choice of words."
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who is also black, called on Trump to delete the tweet.
"Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you. Delete this tweet," Rush wrote.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., tweeted to Trump: "No sir! No, @realDonaldTrump: this is NOT a lynching, and shame on you for invoking such a horrific act that was used as a weapon to terrorize and murder African Americans."
Republican legislators largely tried to put the focus on what they said was the unfair way in which Democrats are conducting the inquiry.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump's description was "pretty well accurate." He called the impeachment effort a "sham" and a "joke" because the president does not know the identity of his accuser, and the process is playing out in private.
"This is a lynching in every sense," said Graham, who is close to Trump.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate's only black Republican, agreed with Trump's sentiment but not his word choice.
"There's no question that the impeachment process is the closest thing (to) a political death row trial, so I get his absolute rejection of the process," Scott said. He added, "I wouldn't use the word lynching."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is also close to Trump, also said "lynching" isn't "the language that I would use."
Defending Trump, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said the president was trying to point out the way he has been "attacked" by the news media since before he took office. Trump's tweet mentions Republicans and Democrats only, not the news media.
"The president's not comparing what's happened to him with one of our darkest moments in American history," Gidley said.
Under pressure over impeachment, blowback over his Syria policy and other issues, the Republican president tweeted Tuesday: "So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights."
"All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching. But we will WIN!"