Obama Gives First Direct Public Rebuke Of President Trump

Sep 7, 2018
Originally published on September 7, 2018 8:58 pm
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Midterm elections are less than two months away, and a familiar Democratic voice has returned. In a speech at the University of Illinois, former President Barack Obama gave his first direct public rebuke of President Trump. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Former President Obama has long said he believes in the tradition of ex-presidents not publicly criticizing their successors, but no more. Obama offered a detailed attack on both the actions and the temperament of the current president, and he offered his first public criticism of Trump by name. He started slowly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Then came this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.

GONYEA: That critique got stronger. He cited Trump's vilification of minorities, attacks on the press, cozying up to Russia, promoting wild conspiracy theories, and this on the Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., a year ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: And we're sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: And he went after the Republican Party, saying they provided no checks on the Trump White House. But he also had pointed words for Democrats, that the party must welcome a broad spectrum of voters. It felt like a response to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign comments complaining about the, quote, "deplorables" who would never support her. His ultimate message to these college students was that young people need to vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: People ask me, what are you going to do for the election? No, the question is, what are you going to do?

GONYEA: He said 2016 made it clear that elections do matter. Finally, as Obama was speaking, President Trump was flying to a fundraiser. When he landed, he had this dismissive reaction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm sorry. I watched it, but I fell asleep.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: I've found he's very good - very good for sleeping.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: Trump spoke in North Dakota. Obama has more speeches in the coming week, this time with Democratic candidates, including one in California and another in Ohio. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.