Dem rep stands by remarks calling Trump 'grand wizard'

Said he doesn't believe president is racist

By VERONICA STRACQUALURSI, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, compared President Trump to a leader of the Ku Klux Klan during an event hosted by the National Action Network in New York.

(CNN) - The chair of the House Democratic Caucus is standing by his remarks referring to President Donald Trump as "the grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" but declined to call him a racist Wednesday.

"Do you regret going that far in your comments on Monday?" CNN's Alisyn Camerota asked New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries on "New Day."

"Not at all," he replied, later adding, "We've got to have an opportunity for at least one day a year to have a candid, if sometimes uncomfortable, conversation about race."

During a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday, Jeffries told the crowd, "These are challenging times in the United States of America -- we have a hater in the White House, a birther in chief, the grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

Jeffries told CNN Wednesday that "of course, I don't believe that the President is a card-carrying member of the KKK."

He noted that he did not use the word "racist" in any of his comments about Trump, though he argued later that Trump "presided over and engaged in directly a series of racially insensitive remarks."

"Wolf Blitzer in the past has asked me whether I believe the President is a racist and I've consistently said no," he told Camerota.

He added, "But it did capture a troubling pattern of racially insensitive and outrageous at times behavior that spans not months, not years, but decades."

He pointed to several controversial Trump statements and actions, including his comments in the aftermath of racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, his role promoting the birther conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama and calling for the death penalty in the wake of the Central Park Five case. When confronted with accusations of being racist, Trump has often said he is the "least racist person," including in an interview with CNN's Don Lemon in 2015.

"We cannot whitewash that, we cannot hide it, and on King Day, we should be able to have that candid discussion," Jeffries said Wednesday.

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