WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's comparison of the House impeachment inquiry to a "lynching" elicited immediate rebukes Tuesday from Democrats and several Republicans, who condemned Trump's use of a term most associated with the barbaric hanging of African American men. Yet other GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., endorsed Trump's characterization.

"You are comparing a constitutional process to the PREVALENT and SYSTEMATIC brutal torture of people in THIS COUNTRY that looked like me?" tweeted Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Since the impeachment probe officially began last month, Trump has tried to discredit it less on its merits than on how unfairly he says it is being conducted, using terms such as "witch hunt" and "coup." His tweet Tuesday morning seized on a word associated with the murder of thousands, predominantly African Americans.

"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," Trump tweeted. "All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here - a lynching. But we will WIN!"

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Trump's latest comments recall his fraught history when it comes to racial sensitivity. He took out a full-page ad in 1989 calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty after the arrest of the Central Park Five - Harlem teenage boys of color accused of beating and raping a female jogger. Even after DNA evidence exonerated the five more than a decade later, Trump refused to accept that they were not guilty.

After white nationalists descended on Charlottesville in August 2017 and were met with counterprotesters, one of whom was killed, Trump infamously said there were "very fine people on both sides."

Much like after that incident, most Republicans have said little about Trump's "lynching" comment, dodging questions by saying they didn't see the president's latest tweet.

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But some of Trump's fiercest allies on Capitol Hill defended the president.

"This is a lynching in every sense. This is un-American," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., told reporters at the Capitol, calling the impeachment process "a sham" and a "joke."

Rep. Paul A. Gosar, R-Ariz., retweeted Trump's lynching tweet and wrote: "Democrats are still angry that their chosen one, Hillary Clinton, will never be president. They want to impeach @realDonaldTrump because they know they can't beat him at the ballot box."

While Democrats rushed to condemn Trump's comments, they also urged that they not let it distract from the investigation.

"The problem is this president minute-by-minute saying things that are outrageous, and the problem is keeping up with the outrages," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who has been targeted by Trump as a member of a group of four freshmen women of color, tweeted: "Lord give me the strength to not take the bait but hold this man accountable for every single thing he says and does."

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest-ranking African American in the House, said he'd consider a floor vote to officially condemn Trump's language.

"I resent it tremendously," Clyburn said. "I think that what we see here once again is this president attempting to change the narrative by using what I consider to be real caustic terms in order to change the conversation. To compare the constitutional process to something like lynching is far beneath the office of president of the United States."

There were some Republicans who also denounced Trump's comments, although they were among those who had criticized the president before.

"We can all disagree on the process, and argue merits," tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. "But never should we use terms like 'lynching' here. The painful scourge in our history has no comparison to politics, and @realDonaldTrump should retract this immediately. May God help us to return to a better way."

And Joe Walsh, a former GOP congressman who is now running against Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, apologized for ever supporting him.

"Again, I apologize. I apologize for voting for Trump in 2016," Walsh tweeted. "I apologize for the role I played in helping to put this horrible human being in the White House."

Michael Steele, who is black and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted a black and white image of an African American man hanging from a tree.

"This is a lynching," Steele tweeted to Trump and to Graham. "Trump this is not happening to you and it's pathetic that you act like you're such a victim; but it did happen to 147 black people in your state Lindsey. 'A lynching in every sense?' You should know better."

Other Republicans toed a delicate line, not approving of the language but supporting the spirit of it.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that lynching is "not the language I would use," and then criticized Democrats. Asked why he would not use the term, he said: "I don't agree with that language. Pretty simple."

The only black Republican in the Senate, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., also offered a tempered response that stopped short of criticizing Trump.

"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 told an NBC News reporter. "I wouldn't use the word lynching."

The Washington Post's John Wagner and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

This article was written by Colby Itkowitz, a reporter for The Washington Post. The Washington Post's John Wagner and Mike DeBonis contributed to this story.