Trump honors MLK amid firestorm over racially charged remarks

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Trump says he'll look into small business loan program restricting casinos 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 CarsonKristol-backed group releases ad showing GOP voters blasting Trump over coronavirus response White House slams pastor leading Cabinet Bible studies for linking homosexuality, coronavirus Conservative group hits Trump for coronavirus response in new ad 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: Bringing senators back in two weeks would be 'dangerous and risky' How the Senate should implement remote voting in emergencies Hillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter's Jack Dorsey to donate B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation 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 attacks WHO amid criticism of his coronavirus response Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill UN biodiversity chief calls for international ban of 'wet markets' 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 FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father 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) RyanDemocrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Lawmakers call for universal basic income amid coronavirus crisis Democrats tear into Trump's speech: It was a 'MAGA rally' 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 biggest political upsets of the decade Former GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster 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.