The White House said US president Donald Trump was speaking “tongue-in-cheek” when he said congressional Democrats could be guilty of treason for refusing to applaud his State of the Union address.
Spokesman Hogan Gidley said Mr Trump “was obviously joking” when he made the comments during an economic speech in Ohio on Monday.
Mr Gidley said what is serious is that it seems Democrats have put their personal hatred for Mr Trump above their desire to see the country succeed.
As he promoted tax cuts during Monday’s appearance at an Ohio manufacturer, Mr Trump characterised a lack of a response from Democrats to the State of the Union address as “un-American”.
Mr Trump also asked: “Can we call that treason? Why not?”
The comment triggered an uproar among Democrats.
Illinois senator Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee veteran of the Iraq War, tweeted a reminder that Mr Trump had deferred service during the Vietnam War for bone spurs.
She wrote: “We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy. I swore an oath_in the military and in the Senate_to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.”
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Americans should be alarmed that Mr Trump “is working to make loyalty to him synonymous with loyalty to our country”.