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President Obama on Tuesday decried the rise of “vicious” politics in comments aimed at Republican presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFrench president rips Trump’s Paris comments By any other name: Revised Trump border rules will still be a Muslim ban Trump's first dinner out in DC: His own hotel MORE.
Speaking at a St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at the Capitol, the president warned that "vulgar and divisive" rhetoric and violence on the campaign trail could tarnish America’s standing in the world and called on lawmakers in both parties to make it stop.
“Too often, we’ve accepted this as somehow the new normal. And it’s worth asking ourselves what each of us may have done to contribute to this vicious atmosphere in our politics,” Obama told the gathering of lawmakers and foreign dignitaries, noting that other politicians surely have remarks they regret, as he does.
“And while some may be more to blame than others for the current climate, all of us are responsible for reversing it, for it is a cycle that is not an accurate reflection of America. And it has to stop.”
Obama’s words brought a somber atmosphere to the typically festive luncheon, which was hosted by Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanIf Democrats want to take back the White House start now GOP grapples with how to handle town halls Leaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood MORE (R-Wis.) in honor of the St. Patrick's Day holiday.
The room became virtually silent when Obama turned to Ryan, a frequent political enemy of the president’s. While noting he “fiercely” disagrees with Ryan on policy, Obama said, “I don't have a bad thing to say about you as a man.”
Ryan nodded as Obama continued, "I know you want what's best for America."
The president called his attitude toward Ryan proof that "we can have political debates without turning on another."
But Obama made it clear Republicans have a special burden to end their "silence" when it comes to Trump's rhetoric and tactics.
“When we leave this lunch, I think we have a choice,” Obama said. “We can condone this race to the bottom or accept it as the way things are and sink further, or roundly reject this kind of behavior whether we see it in the other party or, more importantly, when we see it our own party. … It starts with us."
Ryan has publicly condemned violence at Trump's rallies but reiterared Tuesday he will support him if he becomes the party's presidential nominee.
Like Obama, the Speaker stressed the importance of having relationships with members of the other party.
“That is why we are here today: to show that admiration and to celebrate that kinship," Ryan said. "It is an act of defiance to poke fun at your opponents ... and then to break bread with them. It is going against the odds to work with your opponents ... to joke with them ... to pray with them."
Obama viewed the Friends of Ireland luncheon as a fitting place to voice his concerns, because the event, which is "characterized by a lot of bipartisan camaraderie and fellowship ... stands in stark contrast” to the divisiveness of the campaign, said spokesman Josh Earnest.
"I'm confident it’s not for the last time," Earnest added.
Obama did not mention Trump by name, but criticized protesters who have disrupted the billionaire businessman's rallies, as well as his supporters who have responded with violence.
“I say that not because it’s a matter of political correctness; it’s about the way the corrosive behavior can undermine our democracy and our society and even our economy,” he said.
The president became emotional when he voiced fear that the nastiness of the 2016 presidential campaign could turn off an entire generation of children from politics and public life.
“We should not have to explain to them this darker side of politics. We should not be afraid to take them to a political rally or let them watch political debates,” he said of the nation’s youth.
“We should be teaching them that this democracy is a vibrant and precious thing, and it’s going to be theirs someday and we want them to elevate it.”
As is tradition, there were also some lighter moments at the luncheon, such as when Obama noted his football rivalry with the Speaker. The president is a fan of the Chicago Bears, while Ryan cheers for their division rival Green Bay Packers.
In the bipartisan spirit of the event, Obama even snuck in a pitch for members of Congress to consider his nominee for the Supreme Court, despite Republicans’ promise to not consider anyone he puts forth.
“While I may not possess the persuasive power of St. Patrick, I do hope the hospitality extended here today is similarly extended to my nominee to the Supreme Court when he or she arrives,” the president said with a grin.
This story was updated at 1:50 p.m.