FILE - MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski arrive for the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, April 25, 2015.
FILE - MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski arrive for the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, April 25, 2015.

WHITE HOUSE - The White House is defending President Donald Trump's deeply personal social media ridiculing of a well-known television commentator Thursday.

"I don't think it's a surprise he fights fire with fire," deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "He's not going to sit back and be attacked by the liberal media, Hollywood elites, and when they hit him, he's going to hit back."

Trump, on Twitter, lambasted Mika Brzezinski, who co-hosts the Morning Joe television talk show with her fiance, Joe Scarborough.

"I heard poorly rated @MorningJoe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore)," Trump wrote in a two-part message.

"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!"

The couple said at the time that they had gone to Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to arrange an interview with the incoming president less than a month before his inauguration.

Congressional condemnation

There was quick and firm criticism by members of Congress of the president's comments on the television co-host's appearance. Most notably, senators from the president's own Republican Party chastised him.

"This has to stop — we all have a job — 3 branches of gov't and media. We don't have to get along, but we must show respect and civility," tweeted Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said, "Please just stop. This isn't normal and it's beneath the dignity of your office."

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, said, "Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America."

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska tweeted, "Stop it! The Presidential platform should be used for more than bringing people down."

Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, who had just chaired a hearing with Capitol Police on the recent shooting of a congressman, said the president's online comments "don't help our political or national discourse and do not provide a positive role model for our national dialogue."

Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, leader of the majority Republicans in the House of Representatives, said, "What we're trying to do around here is improve the tone, the civility of the debate. And this obviously doesn't help do that."

Cause for ire unknown

It was not immediately clear what drew Trump's ire about Brzezinski and Scarborough.

Brzezinski on Thursday's program discussed fake Time Magazine covers that had been hanging on the walls at several of the president's golf courses, as initially reported by The Washington Post.

"He's covering his hands here because they're teensy," Brzezinski said of Trump's crossed-arms pose on the fake magazine cover.

During last year's presidential campaign, the size of Trump's hands briefly became the target of political jokes.

White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. also took aim at the show's hosts while they were on air, saying in a tweet from his personal account, "#DumbAsARockMika and lover #JealousJoe are lost, confused &  saddened since @POTUS @realDonaldTrump stopped returning their calls! Unhinged."

Trump has long described major news outlets as "fake news" for stories he does not like about his five-month tenure in the White House.

Trump's White House aides, as well as first lady Melania Trump, have often tried to rein in the president's penchant for acerbic Twitter comments.

Melania Trump, wife of Donald Trump, arrives befor
FILE - Melania Trump, wife of Donald Trump, arrives before the second presidential debate Oct. 9, 2016.

Defends Twitter habit

Trump defends his frenetic activity on Twitter, which is sometimes scathing and includes regular attacks on the mainstream media, as his way of reaching people directly, without filters.

A spokesman for the NBC Universal media group, Mark Kornblau, which airs the Morning Joe show on its MSNBC cable channel, issued a statement saying, "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."

Brzezinski is the daughter of the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser.

The president used to frequently appear on the program, which is named for Scarborough, a Republican, who was a Florida congressman for six years.

The co-hosts of the popular morning cable TV program previously had a cordial relationship with the new president, but they have become critical of Trump since he took office and publicly questioned his mental health.

"It's kind of like we're living in The Twilight Zone, Sanders — referring to a 1960s TV show featuring tales of science fiction, suspense and psychological drama — told reporters during Thursday's White House briefing. "They do this day after day after day, and the president responds and defends himself, and everyone is blown away."