Trump honors MLK amid firestorm over racially charged remarks

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference 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 CarsonHUD drafting rule to require carbon monoxide detectors in public housing Treasury offers new guidance on opportunity zones HUD chief Carson leaves Dem lawmaker exasperated with answer on LGBT protections 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 DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal 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 GrahamHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars DOJ: Dem subpoena for Mueller report is 'premature and unnecessary' Dems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions 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 FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family 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 RyanTim Ryan doesn't back impeachment proceedings against Trump Cory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris 2020 Dems ratchet up anti-corporate talk in bid to woo unions 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) LoveThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Juan Williams: Racial shifts spark fury in Trump and his base Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign 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.