The White House on Thursday all but called Republicans the party of racism.
In a stinging indictment of the GOP's record on race, White House press secretary Josh Earnest Thursday alluded to a number of ways the party was "out of step with the vast majority of Americans" on race relations.
"Right now, the Interior appropriations bill in the House is jammed up because a sizable number of House Republicans are eager to protect the status of the Confederate flag on National Park Service grounds," Earnest told reporters.
"These are the same House Republicans who voted for a party leader who once described himself as, quote, 'David Duke without the baggage.' These are the same congressional Republicans who have declined to criticize the race-baiting rhetoric of a leading Republican presidential candidate. That's to say nothing of the Senate Republican who saluted that candidate.
"So when you hear me say that congressional Republicans have an agenda that is out of step with the vast majority of Americans," he added, "this record, at least in part, is what I'm referring to."
It was Earnest's opening salvo in the White House press briefing, prepared in advance and not prompted by any reporter's question. Praising the South Carolina legislature's move to take down the controversial Confederate flag from its perch near the statehouse, Earnest remarked that congressional Republicans "seem to have values and priorities that lie elsewhere."
He then brought up House Majority Whip Steve Scalise's 2003 comments to a white supremacist group likening himself to Duke, the former Klu Klux Klan leader, as well as GOP presidential contender Donald Trump's controversial remarks on Mexican immigrants.
Earnest later clarified that he wasn't explicitly saying the GOP has a problem with race. But he said the fact that Speaker John Boehner, who doesn't think the flag should be displayed at federal cemeteries, hasn't been successful in persuading his fellow Republicans of his view is "notable."
"There's no denying the stark difference in the agenda that's advanced by Republicans with regard to many of these issues, and the priorities and values that are espoused by Democrats," Earnest told reporters.
But Republicans say the amendment they put forward was consistent with the administration's policy regarding the Confederate flag's restrictions on federal lands.
"Distorting fact to try and score cheap political points is no way to honor the victims of the horrific crime in Charleston," Cory Fritz, Boehner's press secretary, told National Journal. "These childish attacks are completely dishonest, and beneath the dignity of the office of the presidency."
He declined to say whether President Obama would direct the National Park Service to further limit the display of the flag on federal lands himself.
This story has been updated to include comments from Speaker Boehner's spokesman.
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