Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton criticized the GOP’s leading presidential candidates on Wednesday, saying Donald Trump’s calls to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and Ted Cruz’s pledge to increase surveillance of U.S. Muslims shows “America’s long struggle with racism is far from finished.”
“Ugly currents that lurk just below the surface of our politics have burst into the open,” Clinton said in a nearly 30-minute speech delivered at the National Action Network’s annual convention in midtown Manhattan.
“Everyone sees this bigotry for what it is,” Clinton told the gathering of civil rights leaders. “It is up to all of us to repudiate it.”
Clinton took aim at Trump, the Republican front-runner, for repeatedly questioning the citizenship of President Barack Obama and for not initially distancing himself from an endorsement he received from white supremacist leader David Duke in February.
“When the front-runner for the Republican nomination was asked in a national television interview to disavow David Duke and other white supremacists, he played coy,” Clinton said. “This is the same Donald Trump who led the insidious birther movement to delegitimize President Obama.”
In a Feb. 28 CNN interview, Trump was asked whether he would disavow Duke’s support. Trump replied that he did not know “anything” about Duke.
“I don’t know — did he endorse me, or what’s going on?” Trump said, according to a transcript of the interview.
Hours after that interview, Trump wrote a post on his Twitter account saying “I disavow” the endorsement.
Clinton criticized Cruz, saying he “would treat Muslim Americans like criminals and religiously profile their neighborhoods.”
Cruz has called for increasing surveillance of U.S. Muslim communities, in response to terrorist strikes orchestrated by the Islamic State terrorist group.
With New York’s April 19 primary less than a week away, Clinton looked to shore up support against her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, telling the predominantly black audience that she would not take their vote for granted and would fight against “systemic racism.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the civil rights group, made an appeal to the entire field of presidential candidates to deliver detailed policy proposals, saying “this must not be a sound-bite, low-content” election.
“Black America must be taken seriously,” Sharpton said.
Sanders will address the group Thursday morning — hours before both candidates face off in Brooklyn for a 9 p.m. debate hosted by the cable television networks CNN and NY1.
At a campaign rally in the Bronx Wednesday night, Clinton continued to assail Cruz and Trump.
“Unlike Donald Trump, we’re not saying some people don’t belong,” Clinton told an overflow crowd of 800 people at the Dreiser Loop Community Center in Co-Op City.
“This is a borough of immigrants, in a city of immigrants, in a state of immigrants, in a country of immigrants,” Clinton said to cheers.
The age gap between Clinton supporters, and Sanders supporters, who polls show skew younger, was acknowledged by New York City Councilman Andy King of the Bronx, who urged the “millennial” generation to “learn your information.” He touted Clinton’s history of working with minority communities as a former first lady and U.S. senator.
The Trump and Cruz campaigns did not return requests for comment.