Sen. Bernie Sanders forcefully denounced President Trump as a ‘racist’ on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in South Carolina, a crucial presidential primary state.
Attending remarks at an NAACP event in the Palmetto State’s capitol, Sanders said: ‘Today we talk about justice and today we talk about racism, and I must tell you it gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a president of the United States who is a racist.’
Sanders said that ‘a president is supposed to do is to bring us together,’ yet Trump is ‘trying to divide us up by the color of our skin, by our gender, by the country that we came from, by our religion.’
His description of Trump as a racist was included prepared remarks that derided Trump for his connection to the birther movement. However, Sanders did not levy the attack as written.
The assault on Trump was the most clear-cut signal to date that Sanders intends to seek the Oval Office again in 2020. He could face competition for the job from fellow Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, who has for years been mentioned as a possible contender.
Neither man has formed an exploratory committee or ruled out a national campaign.
The independent senator who nearly defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 contest for the Democratic nomination is widely expected to try for the White House again, even though this race would pit him against progressive allies like Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
In addition to making remarks at the NAACP event, he and Booker participated in a march and attended a prayer service on Monday in Columbia,
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meanwhile held a wreath-laying ceremony at the base of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Monday during a brief visit, as Americans marked the anniversary of the civil rights leader’s birth.
Official White House schedules for the day, published Sunday night, said Trump and Pence had ‘no public events scheduled’ on the national holiday.
But shortly after 11:00 a.m, both leaders headed to the imposing stone memorial on the banks of Washington’s tidal basin near the National Mall.
Temperatures in Washington dipped into the low teens on Monday, with wind chills as low as 2 degrees. Trump and Pence observed a moment of silence at the monument before they departed, spending two minutes at the site from start to finish.
‘Good morning, everybody. Great day. Beautiful day,’ President Trump said. ‘Thank you for being here. Appreciate it.’
The Rev. Al Sharpton had complained hours earlier that Trump’s White House appeared to be ignoring the holiday.
‘There is no official event at the White House to celebrate Martin Luther King Day,’ he said during a breakfast event for his National Action Network, attended by former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Martin Luther King III.
‘This is an insult to the American people that the president of the United States does not officially recognize or give any ceremony for Dr. King,’ Sharpton complained.
The president issued a proclamation honoring King, tweeting a link to it with the message: ‘Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God. #MLKDay.’
First lady Melania Trump, last known to be at her husband’s resort in Florida, also sent out a tweet honoring the civil rights leader.
She wrote: ‘Today we honor the life and legacy of #MartinLutherKingJr #MLKDay.’
The president did not mention the leader at his surprise stop at the outdoor memorial on Monday nor did he comment on the standoff with Democrats that’s fueled a partial government shutdown for the past month,
Trump announced a new strategy to end it in a national address on Saturday afternoon. He has not commented on camera about it since, although the vice president has spoken to reporters and participated in a lengthy televised interview on the subject on Sunday.
Trump and Pence visited the MLK monument together with the acting interior secretary on Monday morning.
The president said in a tweet afterward that it was his ‘great honor’ to visit the memorial honoring the African-American leader. He attached a 24-second video of his brief visit to the message.
White House Press secretary Sarah Sanders also tweeted about MLK Day Monday morning.
‘Today we honor a great American who gave his life to right the wrong of racial inequality. Our country is better thanks to his inspiration and sacrifice #MLKDay,’ she wrote.