WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: White House Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway talks to reporters outside of the West Wing July 16, 2019 in Washington, DC. Conway defended U.S. President Donald Trump's weekend remarks on Twitter, writing that four Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back" to their own countries. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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(CNN) —  

Kellyanne Conway prides herself on her combativeness with the press. It’s a trait that has long endeared her to President Donald Trump and kept her in his ever-shrinking inner circle of advisers.

But on Tuesday afternoon, she went too far – even for her.

Witness this exchange between Conway and Breakfast Media White House correspondent Andrew Feinberg regarding Trump’s racist tweets over the weekend:

FEINBERG: Following up on the previous question: If the President was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, to which countries was he referring?

CONWAY: What’s your ethnicity?

FEINBERG: Um. Why is that relevant?

CONWAY: No, no – because I’m asking a question. My ancestors are from Ireland and Italy.

FEINBERG: My own ethnicity is not relevant to the question I’m asking.

CONWAY: No no, it is, because you’re asking, he said originally, he said originally from.

FEINBERG: But you know I’m asking –

CONWAY: But you know everything he has said since and to have a full conversation –

FEINBERG: So are you saying that the President was telling the Palestinian [inaudible] to go back to—[crosstalk]

CONWAY: The President’s already commented on that and he’s said a lot about this since that one tweet. He’s put out a lot of tweets and he made himself available to all of you yesterday –

FEINBERG: No, just to the pool.

CONWAY: He’s tired. A lot of us are sick and tired in this country of America coming last. To people who swore an oath of office.

What. The. Actual. Hell.

This is not a conversation that happened on some Trump subreddit. These are the words of the White House senior counselor. This conversation happened on the White House grounds. The year is 2019.

This is, in a word, outrageous. What possible relevance does Feinberg’s ethnicity have to do with the question he asked? Trump’s Sunday tweets suggested that four Democratic congresswomen should go back to the countries where they were from. In the case of three of them – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts) and Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) that country is the United States. (Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was born in Somalia but is now a naturalized US citizen.) The question by Feinberg was designed – presumably – to force Conway to address the fact that the President of the United States had told four American citizens to go back home.

Where Feinberg’s ancestors hailed from matters not at all. To the question or to Conway’s answer to the question.

I’d be loath to put myself in her head, but my guess is that she was simply trying to be confrontational and provocative. To give a reporter a taste of his own medicine. But the way it came off was far, far different. Go back and read the exchange: It feels as though Conway is asking for proof of some sort of lineage before she is willing to answer the question from Feinberg.

Within hours of saying what she said, Conway was insisting that she didn’t mean what she had in fact said.

“This was meant with no disrespect,” she tweeted. “We are all from somewhere else ‘originally’. I asked the question to answer the question and volunteered my own ethnicity: Italian and Irish. Like many, I am proud of my ethnicity, love the USA & grateful to God to be an American.”

Uh, OK.

That Conway actually uttered the words “what’s your ethnicity” to a reporter – and refused to drop her line of inquiry – amid an ongoing racial firestorm sparked by Trump’s own willingness to tell non-white members of Congress to go back where you came from is stunning, even coming, as it did, from an administration that has repeatedly shown there simply is no bottom.

Conway, Trump and the like can try to spin what she said – and what she meant – all they want. But go and read the exchange. And then use some common sense about what Conway was getting at. Unreal.