WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump on Thursday ridiculed the brains, looks and temperament of a female cable television host whose show he says he has stopped watching. His latest crude broadside against a woman's appearance set off a storm of protest from Republicans and Democrats alike and did nothing to advance his struggling policy agenda.
In a series of tweets morning tweets, the president went after Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, who have criticized Trump on their MSNBC show "Morning Joe."
"I heard poorly rated @Morning Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came ... to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!"
Brzezinski responded on Twitter by posting a photograph of a Cheerios box that includes the phrase "made for little hands." Critics looking to get under the president's skin have long suggested that his hands appear smaller than usual for his frame.
"It's a sad day for America when the president spends his time bullying, lying and spewing petty personal attacks instead of doing his job," NBC News spokeswoman Lorie Acio said in a statement.
Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president, suggesting the tweets were just his way of countering an attack.
"I don't think that the president's ever been someone who gets attacked and doesn't push back," she said on Fox News. "There have been an outrageous number of personal attacks - not just to him but to frankly everyone around him. This is a president who fights fire with fire and certainly will not be allowed to be bullied by liberal media and the liberal elites within the media or Hollywood or anywhere else."
First Lady Melania Trump, who has said she wants to run an effort to combat cyber-bullying, also defended her husband's conduct.
"As the first lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder," said her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham.
It was not immediately clear what set Trump off. About two hours before his tweets, Brzezinski said on the show that "it's not normal behavior" for any leader to be tweeting about people's appearances or to be bullying, lying, undermining managers and throwing people under the bus.
She said that if any business executive behaved the way Trump does, "there would be concern that perhaps the person who runs the company is out of his mind."
The reaction to Trump's tweets was swift, critical and bipartisan.
The criticism from Capitol Hill was perhaps the loudest since Trump took office. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, tweeted: "Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America." House Speaker Paul Ryan said, "Obviously I don't see that as an appropriate comment."
Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas said on Twitter: "This is not okay. As a female in politics I am often criticized for my looks. We should be working to empower women." Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, called Trump's actions "monstrous."
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said he had just chaired a hearing with the Capitol Police on the shooting of House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, and he said Trump's tweets "don't help our political or national discourse and do not provide a positive role model for our national dialogue."
The inflammatory tweets came as Trump was trying to resuscitate the Senate's health care bill. To do that, he'll need the support of some female Republican senators who have been withholding support, including Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Susan Collins of Maine. Collins said Trump's behavior "has to stop."
This is far from the first time that Trump has drawn criticism for comments about women.
His campaign was threatened last October after the release of a 2005 Access Hollywood video in which he was heard bragging about groping women, saying "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."
Trump also repeatedly suggested that Hillary Clinton didn't have the stamina or "look" to be president, mocked primary foe Carly Fiorina by saying "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?" and falsely suggested that former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, whom he publicly shamed for gaining weight when he owned the contest, had made a sex tape.
In 2015, he said then-Fox News Host Megyn Kelly was unfairly targeting him, saying "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever."
Trump has fewer women in his Cabinet than any president since George H.W. Bush. Two female aides, Sanders and Grisham, were the first White House officials to defend the tweets. But some of his administration's most high-profile women - daughter Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Dina Powell - did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump's relationship with the "Morning Joe" hosts has taken several twists and turns.
Scarborough was largely supportive of Trump during the campaign, and he and his co-host did, in fact, spend time at the president's Florida resort, a visit that Scarborough said was to arrange a Trump interview. But the duo, who are engaged to be married, have since turned critical of Trump.
On their Wednesday show, Brzezinski and Scarborough mocked Trump for displaying in several of his golf resorts a fake Time Magazine cover featuring himself.
"That's needy," Brzezinski said.
About 15 minutes before the president himself tweeted, White House social media director Dan Scavino similarly assailed the hosts.
"#DumbAsARockMika and lover #JealousJoe are lost, confused & saddened since @POTUS @realDonaldTrump stopped returning their calls! Unhinged," Scavino wrote on his personal account.
Lemire reported from New York. Jill Colvin, Catherine Lucey, Erica Werner contributed reporting from Washington and AP television writer David Bauder contributed from New York.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.