Hillary Clinton took aim at Donald Trump on Saturday for his involvement in the birther movement, working to keep Trump’s role in the conspiracy theory on voters’ minds the day after the GOP nominee attempted to officially take it off the table.
Speaking to more than a thousand attendees Saturday night at the Congressional Black Caucus’s annual gala in Washington, the Democratic presidential nominee lit into her Republican rival for a Friday event in which the GOP nominee conceded — after years of falsely suggesting otherwise — that Barack Obama is a naturally-born U.S. citizen and eligible to serve as president.
“I know I speak for not just everyone in this room but so many tens of millions of Americans, Mr. President, not only do we know you are an American, you’re a great American. And you make us all proud to be Americans too,” Clinton said in her brief remarks accepting the CBC’s Trailblazer Award, and with Obama looking on from the audience.
Clinton’s dig on Trump came on a day when her campaign played offense on the birther controversy, including a video juxtaposing Trump’s Friday conference with criticism of the New York real estate mogul and fact checks of his claims.
On Saturday night, Clinton wasn’t originally planning to touch the birther issue, according to campaign aides. But it appeared to be too much to resist, and Clinton wrapped her slam on Trump into a wider play to African American voters to carry on the Obama administration’s legacy.
“It’s not about golf course promotions or birth certificates,” Clinton said. “It comes down to who will fight for the forgotten. Who will invest in your children and who will really have your back in the White House. We need ideas, not insults, real plans to help struggling Americans, to help communities that have bene left out and left behind. Not prejudice and paranoia. We can’t let Barack Obama’s legacy fall into the hands of someone who doesn’t understand that. Whose dangerous and divisive vision for our country will drag us backwards.”
Trump’s attempt to end the birther controversy wasn’t far from the minds of the attendees at the elaborately choreographed CBC event — co-hosted by the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah and singer Kelly Rowland — either.
“He’s never apologized,” Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon, told POLITICO. “He should admit that he was wrong. He should say to the president and say to America that he was wrong and apologize and ask to be forgiven.”
Added Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.): “His hatred and his bigotry has pulled the rug off and the sheet off the Republican party so we can all see it for what it is.”
Trump’s birther views aside, Clinton still faces a challenge in maximizing the turnout among minority voters including blacks as a way to help offset Trump’s expected gains with whites. The Democrat’s campaign has been running ads in swing states like Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania mocking Trump’s ‘What the hell do you have to lose?” line that the Republican has repeatedly used on the stump in encouraging African Americans to break ranks.
While black leaders anticipate Clinton will do well with their voters, they also weren’t ready to go so far as to predict she can duplicate Obama’s historic 2012 reelection, when black turnout rates surpassed whites for the first time in U.S. history.
“I don’t know if anybody could pick up the actual number of votes from African Americans that Barack Obama got,” Rep. Danny Davis, a Democrat from Chicago, told POLITICO. “I don’t think you can duplicate some things. Some things are just some things. It’s the first time.”
Trump’s play for black votes is built on the argument that Democratic policies have hurt the black community. And he and his allies are also making the boldest of predictions about how they’ll do with the black vote come November. While recent polls show him winning 0 percent of the black vote in Ohio and Pennsylvania and 1 percentnationally, he says the country is in for a surprise.
“This whole idea that Trump is a racist is going to get disproven on Election Day when I predict he’s going to get the highest percentage of African American votes of any Republican in my lifetime,” Trump ally Roger Stone said earlier this week on the Alex Jones Show.
Lewis and others dismissed claims that Trump would succeed with black voters. “These members supported Bill Clinton. They’ll be supporting her,” Lewis said.
Davis said he’s been telling black voters who he meets that are even contemplating supporting Trump that it’d be “totally against your self-interest” to leave Democrats now.
“For an African American to vote for Donald Trump would be the same as a turkey voting for Thanksgiving to hurry up and come,” he said.
Clinton’s remarks were followed by Obama, who, as well as mocking Trump’s birther statements from Friday and before, said that he would consider low African American voter turnout “a personal insult, an insult to my legacy.”
Clinton spoke briefly with Obama and first lady Michelle Obama after her remarks to the CBC. She then left the event before the president spoke to fly back to her home in Westchester County, New York.