Trump honors MLK amid firestorm over racially charged remarks

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE on Friday signed a proclamation honoring civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. as the White House sought to contain blowback from Trump’s incendiary remarks about "shithole countries."

Flanked by Vice President Pence and King’s nephew, Isaac Newton Farris, Trump lauded King’s “bravery and sacrifice” and said he “lifted the conscience of our nation.” 

“He stirred the hearts of our people to recognize the dignity written in every human soul,” Trump said. “Today we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God.”

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Meanwhile, Trump was dealing with blowback from lawmakers in both parties who have condemned the president for disparaging immigrants from places such as Haiti, El Salvador and certain African nations as coming from “shithole countries.” 

After Trump signed the proclamation, he walked away, ignoring shouted questions from reporters. 

“Mr. President, are you a racist?” one reporter shouted repeatedly.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTrump must pair more respectful rhetoric with positive policies Trump honors MLK amid firestorm over racially charged remarks Reporter asks Trump 'Are you a racist?' after MLK event MORE, who is Trump’s highest-ranking black official, and Farris did not address the controversy in brief remarks to the press.

“We need to heal the divisions of our age,” Carson said. “If we keep this conviction at the center of our every word and action, if we look upon our countrymen as brothers with a shared home and a common destination, then instead of meaningless words rolling off of our tongue, we will truly create one nation under God.” 

The White House on Thursday declined to dispute media reports about Trump’s remarks, but the president took to Twitter on Friday to call the reports false.

“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump tweeted, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA!” 

“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country,” he continued. “Never said 'take them out.' Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!”

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Ex-Sheriff David Clarke: Trump only one who 'cares about black American citizens' DHS chief takes heat over Trump furor MORE (D-Ill.), who as at the meeting, said Trump did in fact make the “hate-filled, vile and racist” remarks.

Durbin said that Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.), who was also at the meeting, “spoke up” and told the president the remarks were unacceptable.

“You’ve seen the comments in the press,” Durbin said. “I’ve not seen one of them that’s inaccurate. To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words. It is not true. He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House Flake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense MORE (R-Ariz.), a Trump critic who is retiring after this Congress, also confirmed the reports.

“The words used by the President, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not 'tough,' they were abhorrent and repulsive,” Flake tweeted.

Democrats have been unequivocal in their response, calling the president a racist.

Speaking on CNN, Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanTrump honors MLK amid firestorm over racially charged remarks Dem lawmaker: Trump is 'the king of chaos’ Dem hopefuls flock to Iowa MORE (D-Ohio) was asked if Trump has shown a “pattern of racism.”

“I don't think there's any question about it," Ryan replied. "And I don't take any joy in saying it. It's sad that he's the president of the United States."

Trump has also been rebuked by a handful of vulnerable or retiring GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveConan to film show in Haiti in response to Trump's 's---hole' comments Haitian-American GOP lawmaker meets with Trump House GOP chair blasts media for saying 's---hole' while reporting on Trump MORE (R-Utah), whose parents came to the U.S. from Haiti.

"The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned," Love said.

Trump’s allies have acknowledged that Trump’s remarks were crude but said he is only speaking how ordinary Americans speak.

They argued that Trump was making a broader point that the U.S. should be able to decide who enters the country and that lawmakers should implement a merit-based immigration system, instead of opening the borders to immigrants from dysfunctional countries.