Comments made by Republican nominee Donald Trump against a judge have been widely ridiculed as racist. Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York has said that if the business mogul can be characterized as a racist, then so can President Barack Obama (video below).
Trump sparked controversy when he said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel should not preside over one of the several fraud lawsuits against Trump University because he has Mexican heritage.
"He’s a Mexican," Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper on June 3. "We’re building a wall between here and Mexico."
Despite the fact that Curiel was born in Indiana, Trump implied his Hispanic heritage was evidence enough that the judge was biased against him.
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On June 7, Zeldin sat down with CNN’s "At This Hour" to defend Trump’s comments. A supporter of the business mogul, Zeldin turned the accusations of racism around and aimed them at Obama.
"You can easily argue that the president of the United States is a racist with his policies and his rhetoric," Zeldin said.
“My purpose here isn’t to just go through the list and call everyone a racist,” the Republican congressman continued. “I’m saying that we all can up our game with rhetoric and policy because America, we are a nation of immigrants, we are a melting pot.”
Zeldin added that the current administration had committed “micro-targeting.”
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“When you’re micro-targeting a community, and you are putting blacks together and Hispanics together, and certain economic messages and positions on issues, quite frankly, with the way I define racism, I see it in a lot of policies and statements that have taken place,” Zeldin said.
Zeldin’s comments occurred a day after Trump reportedly told his surrogates to counterattack his critics during a heated conference call. The business mogul told his campaign surrogates to accuse those who attack his comments against Judge Curiel as racists themselves, Bloomberg Politics reports.
“The people asking the questions — those are the racists,” Trump said. “I would go at ‘em.”
The business mogul also reportedly told his surrogates that the controversy would blow over, saying: “I’ve always won and I’m going to continue to win. And that’s the way it is.”
Trump followed up by sending a handwritten message to Jonathan Capehart, an African-American opinion writer for The Washington Post who had written critical editorial pieces against the business mogul.
On June 6, Capehart tweeted a printed-out copy of one his editorials that Trump had sent him. The GOP nominee had scrawled a message on the page in big black marker.
“Jonathan, you are the racist, not I,” Trump wrote. “Get rid of your ‘hate.’ Best Wishes, Donald Trump.”
During his CNN interview, Zeldin said he did agree with the House Speaker, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who had condemned Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel that same morning.
“I think that Mr. Trump made a regrettable mistake with his statement,” Zeldin said.