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Is Trump racist? 2020 Democrats are split on the question

By ERRIN HAINES WHACKFebruary 27, 2019
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Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, arrives to hear testimony from Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, before a closed door hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, arrives to hear testimony from Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, before a closed door hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A pair of Democratic presidential candidates blasted President Donald Trump as racist on Tuesday, adding to a growing debate among the White House hopefuls over how far to go in criticizing the president.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar directly called Trump a racist.

“His policies on issues like voting rights and his rhetoric, including his remarks about Charlottesville, were decidedly racist,” she said. “The way he talks about the Muslim ban and other remarks about people of color from other countries are also racist.”

Klobuchar’s comments echo those of California Sen. Kamala Harris, who said in an interview with a black online news outlet published Tuesday that she didn’t think “you can reach any other conclusion” than labeling Trump a racist.

“When you talk about him calling African countries s-hole countries, when you talk about him referring to immigrants as rapists and murderers, I don’t think you can reach any other conclusion,” Harris, the only black woman in the race, told The Root.

Asked specifically if she agreed that Trump is a racist, she replied: “I do, yes. Yes. Yes.”

The comments reflect a growing divide among Democrats over whether to label Trump a racist. Some Democratic presidential contenders have criticized his actions and rhetoric without explicitly calling him a racist. Others have demonstrated none of that caution.

At a campaign event in Iowa last week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said of Trump: “I think he’s racist when he says that Mexicans are rapists and criminals.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont told a crowd in South Carolina, “We now have a president of the United States who is a racist,” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts referred to Trump as a “racist bully” at separate Martin Luther King Jr. Day events last month.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, the only Latino candidate, declined to call Trump a racist when asked in an interview last month, but said the president “has contributed to more racial strife in this country.”

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, the lone black man seeking the Democratic nomination, has also stopped short of the label, saying that Trump has used “bigoted language.”

“I don’t know the heart of anybody. ... I know there are a lot of people who profess the language of white supremacy who use his words,” Booker said when asked if the president was a racist during his campaign launch event in Newark earlier this month.

A February 2018 AP-NORC poll found that 57 percent of Americans considered Trump racist. Eighty-five percent of Democrats said Trump was racist compared to 21 percent of Republicans.

At several points during his campaign and presidency, Trump has made statements criticized as racially offensive. He opened his campaign in 2016 by referring to Mexicans as rapists and referred to black communities as “hell.” In August 2017, after white supremacists clashed with peaceful protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump referred to “good people on both sides” of the deadly encounter. He frequently uses the slur “Pocahontas” to refer to Warren, who has apologized for taking a DNA test to push back against the president’s taunts about her claim of Native American heritage.

Kayleigh McEnany, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign, dismissed charges of racism.

“Patently false and desperate allegations did not work in 2016 and will not work in 2020,” she said in a statement. “President Trump has achieved the lowest unemployment rate on record for African Americans and Hispanics, signed historic criminal justice reform into law to reduce racial disparities in sentencing, and has provided access to the American dream for millions left behind by the liberal policies that wrecked the U.S. economy. His results speak for themselves.”

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Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Juana Summers and Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.

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Whack is The Associated Press’ national writer on race and ethnicity. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous.

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