The Memo: Trump Remark Ignites Racism Accusations

President TrumpDonald John TrumpIG investigating Comey memos over classified information: report Overnight Defense: Congress poised for busy week on nominations, defense bill | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump administration appeals decision to block suspected combatant's transfer Top Pruitt aid requested backdate to resignation letter: report MORE>’s use of the word “shithole” to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African nations has once again moved race to the top of the political agenda.

In the wake of the remarks, the president’s critics are ever more willing to explicitly call him racist.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPaltry wage gains, rising deficits two key tax reform concerns Trump pressed Sessions to fire FBI agents who sent anti-Trump texts: report DNC sues Russia, Trump campaign and WikiLeaks over alleged election interference MORE>, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the 2016 election, castigated his “ignorant, racist views” in a Friday tweet. Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHannity snaps back at 'Crybaby' Todd: 'Only conservatives have to disclose relationships?' Chuck Todd lashes out at Fox, defends wife in radio interview Trump pressed Sessions to fire FBI agents who sent anti-Trump texts: report MORE> (I-Vt.) accused Trump of “racist ramblings.” 

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told MSNBC’s Joy Reid on Thursday evening that Trump “could lead the Ku Klux Klan in America.” Rep. John LewisJohn Lewis House passes series of bills to improve IRS Obama and John Lewis talk MLK on 50th anniversary of assassination Tax writers offer bipartisan proposal to improve IRS MORE> (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, on Friday told Katy Tur, also of MSNBC, that racism “must be in his DNA.”

The criticism also came from the media, albeit mostly in outlets that have fractious relationships with the president. 

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“The president of the United States is racist. A lot of us already knew that,” CNN anchor Don Lemon declared at the beginning of his show on Thursday.

When Trump appeared in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday morning to sign a proclamation to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he left to the sound of reporter April Ryan asking, “Mr. President, are you a racist?”

Trump’s contentious remarks were made during a White House meeting intended to discuss a way forward on an immigration deal. Senators from both parties were present.

Trump has long denied charges of racism, and his allies also do so vehemently. 

“There is not a racist bone in his body,” Pastor Robert Jeffress, an evangelical adviser to the president, told the Christian Broadcasting Network last summer.

During a February 2017 news conference at the White House, Trump — who at the time was facing questions about an upsurge in threats against Jewish organizations — said “Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism — the least racist person.”  

Trump on Friday denied making the “shithole” remark, writing on Twitter, “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”

But Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottPartisan tensions rise as Mueller bill delayed GOP dismisses report that tax law will add .9 trillion to debt Gowdy on video questions how long Pruitt is ‘going to make it’ MORE> (R-S.C.), who was not at the meeting, said the basic accuracy of the reporting on what Trump said had been confirmed to him by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Rand Paul under pressure as Pompeo hunts for votes Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination MORE> (R-S.C.), who was present. Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOvernight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes Arizona GOP tinkers with election rules with an eye on McCain's seat Heitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State MORE> (R-Ariz.) said he heard about the remarks before they were publicly reported.  

Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonRand Paul under pressure as Pompeo hunts for votes GOP senators raise concerns about babies on Senate floor Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination MORE> (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) said in a joint statement that they “do not recall the President making these comments specifically.” But Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinHannity, Kimmel, Farrow among Time's '100 Most Influential' The Hill's Morning Report: 200 Days to the Election Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination MORE> (D-Ill.), another attendee, was adamant that Trump had done so.

For Republicans, the political difficulties caused by the controversy are considerable. 

In the short term, they complicate the search for a deal on immigration in general, and the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in particular. Democrats will be under pressure from their base to make no concessions to the president. 

Beyond that, Republicans are grappling with a political landscape in which their president faces serious charges of racism and is mired in historically low approval ratings.

Some GOP House members who face challenging reelection races, such as Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloOvernight Energy: Trump NASA pick advances after drama | White House office to investigate Pruitt's soundproof booth | 170 lawmakers call for Pruitt to resign Young GOP lawmakers want more power 170 lawmakers sign resolution calling for Pruitt's resignation MORE> of Florida, were to the fore in criticizing the president for his remarks.  

GOP strategists fear Trump is playing havoc with the party’s brand. That brand is now “not just contaminated, it is infected,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director of the Republican National Committee and a frequent Trump critic. 

Heye said the Trump administration’s propensity to produce a constant stream of controversies leaves GOP lawmakers exposed.

“This administration presents a constant ‘What now?’ problem,” he said. “At multiple times in any given week, a member is going to be asking ‘What now?’ ” 

Observers on all sides agree that the controversy will not necessarily lower Trump’s approval ratings any further. 

Indeed, the president has spent years firing up a certain cohort of the population with controversial rhetoric.

Before he ever sought office, he traded in the false theory that his predecessor, President Obama, was not born in the United States. In his speech announcing his presidential candidacy in June 2015, he said that Mexico was “not sending their best” as immigrants, and that those who were arriving in the United States included “rapists.”

Last August, after one protester was killed amid clashes over a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Trump claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” — a remark that caused outrage, as it suggested moral equivalence between Nazis and those campaigning against them. 

For all the supposed resilience of Trump’s base, there has been some erosion in recent polls. A report in The Atlantic cited cumulative data from SurveyMonkey polls during 2017 to note that his approval rating among whites without a four-year college degree had fallen 10 points below his showing with the same group in 2016 election exit polls.  

On Friday, a new poll in Georgia gave the president an approval rating of about 37 percent and a disapproval number of about 59 percent. Trump won the state by approximately 5 points in the 2016 election. 

Trump loyalists note that polls have often underestimated his support. But other, more moderate figures insist that the president’s ability to maintain his base is hardly cause for great optimism. The base is a clear minority of voters, they note. 

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for Republicans to reach out to people who are not already in the party base. That is especially true for millennials and nonwhites,” lamented Whit Ayres, a GOP strategist who has often advocated for a more inclusive approach.

The fear, among Ayres and others, is that Trump is deepening the party’s problem with every new controversy — and that a steep price will be paid at the polls come November. 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency. 

This news has been published by title The Memo: Trump Remark Ignites Racism Accusations

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