Trump honors MLK amid firestorm over racially charged remarks

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFamily immigration detention centers could be at capacity within days: report Trump likely to meet with Putin in July: report DOJ requests military lawyers to help prosecute immigration crimes: report 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 CarsonPress: Drain the swamp – of Scott Pruitt An ode to fathers Ben Carson walks back plan to triple rent for poor 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 DurbinDemocrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Live coverage: FBI chief, Justice IG testify on critical report Hugh Hewitt to Trump: 'It is 100 percent wrong to separate border-crossing families' 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 GrahamTrump says he will sign executive order to end family separations Trump backs narrow bill halting family separations: official Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare health plans | 'Zero tolerance' policy stirs fears in health community | New ObamaCare repeal plan 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 FlakeFlake threatens to limit Trump court nominees: report Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border 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 RyanKey Republican says House taking targeted approach to combating opioid epidemic The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix Dems best GOP as Scalise returns for annual charity baseball game 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) LoveDems best GOP as Scalise returns for annual charity baseball game Mia Love to join GOP men's congressional baseball team House immigration fight could boost vulnerable Republicans 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.