Members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Friday harshly criticized Donald Trump’s announcement that he now believes President Obama was born in the United States, saying he never apologized for spreading the birther myth and instead sought to falsely blame Hillary Clinton for originating the rumor.
“This is a disgusting day. Donald Trump is a disgusting fraud, by any definition,” said CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). “Every American needs to understand that this man is a fraud, he’s an insult to the intellect of the American people. We must defeat him in November.”
For years Trump has questioned whether Obama was born in Hawaii, which has inflamed racial tensions because it was viewed as an effort to call into question the legitimacy of the country’s first African-American president. On Friday, Trump sought credit for pursuing the issue because it led to Obama releasing his birth certificate showing he was born in the United States.
“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” Trump said, a statement numerous fact-checkers have said is false and for which neither Trump nor his campaign have offered up any evidence. “I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.”
CBC members said at a news conference Trump’s comments came across as insulting, considering how many years he promulgated the birther theory. They also questioned Trump’s turnaround in light of his campaign, which has included controversial comments and policy proposals concerning minority groups such as blacks, Muslims and Hispanics.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said that while he is used to “dog whistles” in politics, he has had a difficult time adjusting to the “howls of wolves” that have accompanied Trump’s candidacy.
“These are howls, these are not whistles,” Clyburn said. “These are in your face kinds of efforts on the part of one man who is utilizing — I should say misusing the media — in order to heap indignities upon the President of these United States.”
Other CBC members took exception to Trump saying Clinton questioned Obama’s citizenship during the 2008 campaign.
“To lie and say that the birther movement was started by Hillary Clinton and he was finishing it, that he was born in America, and then walk off – has got to stop,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Fla.) chairman of the CBC’s political action committee, which has endorsed Clinton. “He’s lied and he’s divided this country enough.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said Trump’s Friday comments should serve as “a defining moment for all of those who want to denounce bigotry and racism, to step forward now. And to really demand, first that Donald Trump stop it, but secondly, demand an apology from this man.”
Meeks, Lee and others also expressed anger that Trump walked back his long-time skepticism about Obama’s citizenship during an event primarily geared toward promoting his new Washington, D.C., luxury hotel. On Friday, Hillary Clinton addressed the Black Women’s Agenda symposium about a mile away – but Trump declined the invitation, they said.
“He’s only addressing this because he was forced to address it,” said Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.). “Did he address it in a manner that shows he was mistaken and incorrect? No he did not — he has moved on, he is making his money, and he wants to do it off of the backs of all of us.”
Jenna Johnson contributed to this story.