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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump assailed a woman TV news host in highly personal terms on Thursday, calling her "crazy" and alleging she had been bleeding at one point from a facelift, in a Twitter attack that drew strong criticism, including from fellow Republicans.
Trump, who often decries what he calls "fake news" in the American media and who this week attacked CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post, took fierce aim on Thursday at the hosts of the MSNBC program "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
The Republican president called Brzezinski, a journalist and daughter of former White House national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, "low I.Q. Crazy Mika" and said she was "bleeding badly from a face-lift" when she visited his Mar-A-Lago estate around New Year's Eve.
He referred to former Republican U.S. Congressman Scarborough as "Psycho Joe."
Trump is known for his prolific Twitter habit, which includes mocking attacks on critics and rivals, but his tweets on Thursday drew a particularly strong response.
"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," MSNBC's communications office said on Twitter.
The "Morning Joe" program broadcast live telephone interviews with Trump during the 2016 presidential race, but its hosts have turned increasingly critical of him since he took office in January. On Thursday's show, Brzezinski excoriated the Trump administration and said its officials should not act "lobotomised" because they are scared of the president.
Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) owns NBCUniversal, MSNBC's parent company.
Lawmakers in both parties rebuked Trump.
"I don't see that as an appropriate comment," Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said of Trump's tweets, saying they do not help improve civility in Washington.
The tweets represent "what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Republican senator Ben Sasse called Trump's remarks "beneath the dignity of your office."
Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, on Twitter called Trump's tweets "sexist, an assault on the freedom of the press & an insult to all women."
At a briefing, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called it a "false narrative" to portray Trump's remarks as "an attack on a woman" rather than on a critic, adding, "What about the constant attacks that he receives?"
"He's not going to sit back and get attacked by the liberal media, Hollywood elites. And when they hit him, he's going to hit back," Sanders said. "I don't think it's a surprise to anybody that he fights fire with fire."
The tweets created an uproar in Washington and a distraction as Republican senators tried to bridge differences within the party and agree on major healthcare legislation.
A wealthy businessman and former reality TV star with no previous experience in government, Trump has been quick to respond to criticism of his presidency, lashing out at the media for its coverage of probes into potential collusion between his campaign team and Russia, and other matters.
He has sometimes singled out individual journalists, including a high-profile attack while he was running for office on former Fox News and current NBC journalist Megyn Kelly. That included a comment about "blood coming out of her wherever," which was widely interpreted as a reference to menstruation.
Trump has been criticized in the past for his comments about women. He attacked Kelly after she asked him during a presidential debate about his previous references to some women as "fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals."
Trump apologised last October, just before the election, after a 2005 video surfaced in which he said he could grab women by their genitals whenever he wanted because he was a star.
Trump has been critical before of the "Morning Joe" hosts, but Thursday's attack was especially harsh.
Scarborough and Brzezinski are engaged to be married. During the January meeting at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Trump offered to host their wedding and even to officiate it, the two said in an interview in Vanity Fair published in May.
Reporting by Susan Heavey and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis