President Obama denounced both the “vulgar and divisive” rhetoric coming from the campaign trail and the outright violence that’s occurred at rallies for presidential candidate Donald Trump during a luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.
“I know that I’m not only one in this room who may be more than a little dismayed about what’s happening on the campaign trail lately,” Obama said. “We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities. And Americans who don’t look like us or pray like us or vote like we do.”
The president did not refer to any particular candidate specifically, but the statements come just days after violence erupted on the streets of his hometown of Chicago as protestors and attendees clashed outside of a Donald Trump rally. Trump has been accused of inciting violence; on many occasions he has said he would like to punch or “rough up” some of the protestors at his rallies or promised to pay the legal fees of those who do. Trump, however, not only denies that he’s encouraging the disruptions, he denies there’s any violence at all.
“I reject any effort to spread fear or encourage violence or shut people down when they’re trying to speak or turn Americans against one another,” Obama said. “I think as a citizen who will still be leading this office, I will not support somebody who practices that kind of politics.”
Lawmakers had gathered to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, an early celebration given the holiday falls on Thursday and the occasion was generally a joyous one. President Obama started off by joking about the spirit of friendship and bipartisanship he felt throughout the event, and expressed a hope that it would extend to his forthcoming Supreme Court nomination.
But the president said Tuesday he couldn’t help but comment on the state of domestic politics, particularly the politics surrounding the 2016 election. Denouncing the rhetoric, he said, is about protecting the “American brand” and protecting the democracy to keep young people engaged.
“In America, there aren’t laws that say we have to be nice to each other or courteous But there are norms, there are customs,” Obama said. “We can have political debates without turning on one another. We can disagree without assuming that it’s motivated by malice.”
Obama’s comments come just days after he responded to questions about whether or not he feels responsible for the rise of the fringe-candidate-turned-mainstream that is Donald Trump. At the time, the president rejected the notion that the perceived divisiveness of his presidency or any of his policies had anything to with the “crack up” in the GOP primary. On Tuesday, he called on the leaders who had gathered for a luncheon in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day to speak out.
“Too often, we’ve accepted this as somehow the new normal,” Obama said. “It’s worth asking ourselves what each of us may have done to contribute to this vicious atmosphere in our politics. While some may be more to blame than others for the current climate. All of us are responsible for reversing it.”