The White House on Tuesday claimed that a tweet by President Donald Trump attacking Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was not "sexist at all," a view that was not shared by members of Congress, one of whom called the tweet a "disgraceful sexist slur."
In his tweet, Trump called Gillibrand a "lightweight" and a "flunky," who "would do anything" for campaign donations. Trump also said that Gillibrand was "very disloyal" to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president during a daily briefing at the White House, telling reporters that "only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read" Trump's tweet as suggesting Gillibrand would perform sexual acts for campaign donations.
According to Sanders, the president's tweet about Gillibrand was merely a comment on the "corruption" of the campaign finance system.
"This is the same sentiment that the president has expressed many times before, when he has exposed the corruption of the entire political system," Sanders said. "In fact he's used similar terminology many times to describe [senators] of both parties."
Asked what the president was specifically alleging Gillibrand would do in exchange for contributions, Sanders said Trump was "not alleging anything."
"He's talking about the way that our system functions as it is. That politicians repeatedly beg for money, that's not something new, and this comment isn't something new," she said.
"If you look back at past comments that this president has made, he's used that same terminology in reference to men," Sanders said. "There's no way that this is sexist at all. This is simply talking about a system we have that is broken."
Sanders' explanation is unlikely to quell the near-immediate backlash Trump's tweet sparked.
"You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office," Gillibrand replied to the president's tweet.
Other members of Congress were equally outraged by the president's tweet. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called it "grotesque," while Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the tweet was "a disgraceful, sexist slur that has no place in American dialogue and ... shames the office of president."
Trump's tweet landed against a backdrop of renewed public focus on the allegations of sexual misconduct against the president made by multiple women during the 2016 campaign. Trump has denied all the claims, which come from more than a dozen women and date back to the 1980s.
On Monday, Gillibrand called for Trump's resignation over the allegations. The president has "committed assault, according to these women, and those are very credible allegations of misconduct and criminal activity, and he should be fully investigated and he should resign," she said on CNN. "These allegations are credible; they are numerous. I've heard these women's testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking."