Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said Friday that there is "no erasing" Republican Donald Trump's promotion of the false “birther” theory that President Obama was not born in the United States, and said Trump owes Obama an apology.
“We know who Donald is. For five years, he has led the birther movement to delegitimize our first black president. His campaign was founded on this outrageous lie," Clinton said. "There is no erasing it in history.”
She spoke shortly before Trump on Friday acknowledged for the first time that Obama was born in the United States. That ended the businessman's long history of stoking unfounded doubts about the nation’s first African American president, a history that made some moderate Republicans and persuadable voters uncomfortable.
Less than eight weeks before the election, Trump sought Friday to blame Democratic rival Clinton for starting the rumors.
"Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it, you know what I mean," Trump said at his newly opened luxury hotel in Washington on Friday morning. "President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period."
This is not the first time that Trump has accused Clinton of first raising questions about Obama's birthplace, an assertion that has been repeatedly disproved by fact-checkers who found no evidence that Clinton or her campaign questioned Obama's birth certificate or his citizenship.
On Thursday, Trump had refused to state his current view on Obama’s birthplace and thus his legitimacy as president.
Trump’s campaign said Thursday night that he does believe Obama was born in the United States. It said Trump deserves credit for putting questions about Obama's birth to rest.
Speaking to an audience of supportive African American women in Washington, Clinton angrily denounced the "temerity" of Trump's campaign to make that assertion.
"He is feeding into the worst impulses, the bigotry and bias that lurks in our country,” Clinton said.
“Barack Obama was born in America, plain and simple, and Donald Trump owes him and the American people an apology.”
After both Clinton and Trump spoke, her campaign released a statement calling Trump's remarks "disgraceful."
“After five years of pushing a racist conspiracy theory into the mainstream, it was appalling to watch Trump appoint himself the judge of whether the president of the United States is American," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said. "This sickening display shows more than ever why Donald Trump is totally unfit be president.”
The Black Women's Agenda invited both candidates to address its annual conference, but the group's president said only Clinton had accepted. Clinton used the address to rattle off a long list of policy promises and sketch what she called a more positive view of the country's future, but the biggest applause came when she attacked Trump.
“There is no new Donald Trump. There never will be,” Clinton said.
“Donald Trump looks at President Obama after eight years as our president. He still doesn’t see him as an American. Think about how dangerous that is. Imagine a person in the Oval Office who trafficks in conspiracy theories and refuses to let them go, no matter what the facts are. Imagine someone who distorts the truth to fit a very narrow view of the world. Imagine a president who sees someone who doesn’t look like him and doesn’t agree with him and thinks, ‘That person must not be a real American.' ”
“We cannot become insensitive to what he says and what he stirs up. We can’t just accept this. We’ve got to stand up to it,” Clinton said. “If we don’t, it won’t stop.”
Clinton opened her remarks by addressing the bout of pneumonia that kept her off the campaign trail for three days. Clinton said she should have heeded her doctor’s orders to rest but said that her “instinct was to push through it.”
“That is what women do every single day,” she said. “Life has shown us we do have to work harder at the office, while still bearing most of the responsibilities at home, that we always need to keep going because our families and our communities count on us. And I think it is more than fair to say that black women have an even tougher road.”
She closed by urging her audience, a key constituency in her primary victories and the upcoming November election, to weigh in on the “profound choice” between her and Trump.
“African American women turned out to vote more than any other group of Americans in 2012,” Clinton said. “This year, once again, you have your hands on the wheel of history, and you can write the next chapter of the American story.”
Trump’s comments also prompted an onslaught of criticism Friday from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who also called for an apology from the Republican nominee and said the episode should remind African American voters of what is at stake in November.
“Let’s make sure that an individual that’s not speaking American values, who’s really saying deplorable things throughout this campaign, does not make America look deplorable,” said Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus’s political action committee.
Speaking at the same news conference in Washington, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said the renewed focus on the “birther” issue should inspire African Americans to go to the polls.
“We’re going to vote and send a message not only to the United States of America but to the world that is looking at us,” she said.
Several Black Caucus members who participated condemned Trump in harsh terms, calling him a fraud and saying he was using a “dog whistle” to communicate with white Americans.
“He’s a hater. He’s a bigot and he’s racist,” said Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief who’s running for Congress in Florida. “I’ve learned as a law enforcement officer to call it like I see it.”
One person who wasn't calling for an apology Friday was Obama himself. At a White House briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest had this to say about the prospect of Trump telling the president he's sorry: "With regard to an apology, I don't think the president much cares."