Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., on Wednesday defended his characterization of President Donald Trump as the “grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” saying the president has exhibited racially insensitive behavior for decades.
Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, was pressed during a CNN interview about comments made this week at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Harlem at which he referred to the term for the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
“I did a use a colorful phrase, but of course I don’t believe that the president is a card-carrying member of the KKK,” Jeffries said. “But it did capture a troubling pattern of racially insensitive and outrageous at times behavior that spans not months, not years, but decades.”
Jeffries, who was elected to his leadership post in November, cited several examples from Trump’s past, including his insistence that the “Central Park Five” were guilty, even though DNA evidence exonerated them in the notorious 1989 rape case in New York.
Jeffries also cited Trump’s advocacy of the “racist lie” that president Barack Obama was born outside of the United States, as well as comments Trump made after a deadly clash at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Jeffries noted that he has “consistently said no” when asked in the past whether he considers Trump a racist. But he said Trump’s “series of racially insensitive remarks” should not be ignored.
“We cannot whitewash that. We cannot hide it,” the congressman said.
“We’ve got to have an opportunity for at least one day a year to have a candid, if sometimes uncomfortable, conversation about race,” Jeffries said. “Seems to me that we can’t have that conversation on Valentine’s Day, we can’t have that conversation on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s perhaps appropriate for us to have that difficult discussion on MLK Day when we’re celebrating the life and legacy or a champion for racial and social justice.”
At the event on Monday, sponsored by the National Action Network, Jeffries said “these are challenging times in the United States of America.”
“We have a hater in the White House: the birther in chief, the grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said. “One of the things that we’ve learned is that while Jim Crow might be dead, he’s still got some nieces and nephews who are alive and well.”
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · John Wagner