Donald Trump is not sorry for spending five years denying the legitimacy of America’s first black president, he said during Monday night’s presidential debate.
Trump cut off debate moderator Lester Holt as Holt seemed to be asking what Trump had to say to people of color about his many years of denying that President Barack Obama had been born in the United States.
“I say nothing. I say nothing because I was able to get him to produce it,” Trump said of Obama’s long-form birth certificate, which the White House released in 2011.
“I think that I developed very, very good relationships over the last little while with the African American community,” Trump said. “I think you can see that.”
Trump also tried to blame Clinton for starting birtherism during the 2008 Democratic primary, a phony talking point he unveiled last week when he said for the first time that he believed Obama was born in the U.S.
“They were pressing it very hard. She failed to get the birth certificate,” Trump said Monday. “When I got involved, I didn’t fail. I got him to give the birth certificate. So I’m satisfied with it.”
Trump has been America’s top birther since he started questioning Obama’s birthplace in 2011, even claiming that he would send a team to Hawaii to investigate “one of the greatest cons in the history of politics and beyond.”
The basic theory, for which Trump and other birthers have never produced a shred of credible evidence, is that contemporaneous documents proving Obama’s Hawaiian birth in 1961 were conspiratorially planted so he could run for president nearly a half-century later.
When the White House released the long-form certificate in 2011, Trump declared that he was proud of himself. But he has continued fanning the birther flames, right up until he decided he could try to say it had been Clinton behind birtherism all long.
While one official with Clinton’s 2008 campaign drafted a memo with talking points about Obama’s supposed lack of American roots, the campaign didn’t push skepticism of Obama’s Hawaiian birthplace. Some of her supporters circulated a birther email and speculated about Obama’s birth certificate on obscure blogs.
“It can’t be dismissed that easily,” Clinton said at Monday’s debate. “He has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen.”
Clinton pivoted from denouncing Trump’s birtherism to past accusations of racism on his part. “Remember, Donald started his career back in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination because he would not rent apartments in one of his developments to African-Americans,” Clinton said. “And he made sure that the people who worked for him understood that was the policy.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in the spin room after the debate that he wasn’t surprised Trump didn’t apologize.
“He’s not reaching out to the black community at all,” Meeks said. “He’s reaching out to his narrow supporters who I believe, some of his supporters ― not all of them ― some of them are deplorable. And he’s reaching out to those deplorable supporters that he has that utilizes the stereotype of the African American community, of which he continues to depict. He just dug himself deeper in there with the birther statement in regards to the first African American president of the United States. He just showed that he has no desire to do anything with the African American community other than insult them.
Amanda Terkel contributed reporting from Hempstead, New York.
This article has been updated to include Meeks’ comment.