WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Clinton on Thursday accused rival Donald Trump of fostering ugliness and bigotry by refusing to acknowledge President Barack Obama was born in the United States, and urged Hispanic leaders to stoke a large voter turnout in November's election.
Taking the stage shortly after Obama, Clinton noted at a gala of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute that Trump had declined to acknowledge the outgoing president had been born in the United States. Trump, who helped fuel the rise of the so-called "birther movement," told The Washington Post in an interview that he would "answer that question at the right time. I just don't want to answer it yet."
"He was asked one more time where was President Obama born and he still wouldn't say Hawaii. He still wouldn't say America," Clinton said. "This man wants to be our next president? When will he stop this ugliness, this bigotry?"
The Trump campaign released a statement late Thursday saying Trump "believes that President Obama was born in the United States." It also made an unsubstantiated accusation that Clinton launched the birther movement during her unsuccessful primary run against Obama in 2008.
Obama and Clinton made successive appeals to 3,000 Hispanic leaders and supporters, pointing to a large turnout of Latino voters as the antidote to Trump. Both noted the Republican's hard-line position on immigration, referencing his opposition to a comprehensive overhaul of the system and his vows to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Obama said the political season's discussion of immigration "has cut deeper than in years past. It's a little more personal, a little meaner, a little uglier." He said Latinos need to "decide who the real America is" and push back against the notion that the nation "only includes a few of us."
"We can't let that brand of politics win. And if we band together and organize our communities, if we deliver enough votes, then the better angels of our nature will carry the day," Obama said.
Clinton vowed again to complete Obama's unsuccessful push to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally. She reiterated her intention to release a plan to overhaul the immigration system during her first 100 days in office and expand programs that have protected some groups of immigrants from deportation, including those who arrived in the U.S. as children and the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
Pointing to the benefits of a diverse nation, Clinton seized upon Trump's unwillingness to say Obama was born in the United States and his past support for the "birther" movement questioning Obama's citizenship.
"We need to stand up and repudiate this divisive rhetoric," Clinton said. "We need to stop him conclusively in November in an election that sends a message that even he can hear."
While the president and his potential successor did not appear onstage together, they did chat for about 15 minutes backstage. The event represented a passing of the torch before a key Democratic constituency.
Obama captured 71 percent of Latino voters against Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, a lopsided outcome that Clinton hopes to replicate with about eight weeks remaining before Election Day. Facing tightening polls against Trump, Clinton's ability to garner big margins from Hispanics could be critical in battleground states such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado.
The president made no mention of Trump by name but alluded to his candidacy, saying if the nation is going to fix the immigration system, "then we're going to have to push back against bluster and falsehoods and promises of higher walls. We need a comprehensive solution."
Obama's attempt to shield parents from deportation is in limbo after the Supreme Court deadlocked on a decision in a case challenging the president's authority to expand the deportation protection program.
The president is ramping up his campaign activities on behalf of Clinton. Obama headlined his first solo event for his former secretary of state earlier this week in Philadelphia, and will appear alongside her at a dinner for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation on Saturday.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at @kthomasDC