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Senior Obama adviser David Plouffe said Sunday that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's comments about the president's reaction to the controversial killing of African American teenager Trayvon Martin were "reprehensible."
In an interview with the conservative talk show host Sean Hannity last week, Gingrich accused the president of injecting race into the incident and said Obama’s statement that "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon” was “disgraceful.”
But during an interview on ABC's "This Week," Plouffe said it was Gingrich's comments that were out of line.
“Those comments are reprehensible,” Plouffe said. “Speaker Gingrich is clearly in the last throes of his political career…You can make a decision whether to go out with some shred of dignity or say these irresponsible, reckless things. And he’s clearly chosen the latter.”
In his first public remarks about the incident, which occurred almost a month ago, Obama said of Martin's family Friday, "I can only imagine what these parents are going through.
"When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together, federal, state and local, to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened,” Obama said in remarks at a Rose Garden ceremony after unveiling his nominee for the World Bank.
The man who has admitted to shooting Martin, Florida resident George Zimmerman, has claimed he was acting in self-defense. Both Obama and Gingrich referred to the case Friday as a "tragedy," Gingrich, though, added that Obama's comments suggested it would have been less sad if the victim had not been an African-American.
"What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful," Gingrich told Hannity on Friday evening. "It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period."
In an interview with CNN's "State of the Union," Plouffe said that Gingrich and other Republican critics of Obama's comments about the Martin case were "appealing to people's worst instincts.”
"I don't think there's very many people in America that would share that reaction," he said. "The Republican primary has been a little bit of a circus show and a clown show, and those two comments are really irresponsible.
"I think the president spoke movingly about this tragedy as a father (and) make it clear there's investigations going on," he said. "I think those comments are hard to stomach."
Plouffe, in a separate interview on Fox News Sunday, steered clear of saying whether Obama considers the Martin killing a racial issue.
“I think he was speaking out very emotionally and powerfully as a father, and I think that is where the focus ought to be, which is no matter the gender or the race, this is a tragedy any time a young, promising person is taken from us,” Plouffe said.
He also said there is agreement across the political spectrum that it was a tragic event that needs to be investigated. “I think you have seen people in both parties, and I am sure independents across the country, say roughly the same thing, which is this is a tragedy, there ought to be investigations,” he said.
“There are investigations happening locally, as well as at the federal level, and that’s where I think the focus needs to be on. Sympathy and making sure a thorough investigation is done,” Plouffe added.