U.S. Sen. Barack Obama rejected the support of Louis Farrakhan during the Democratic presidential debate.
Obama (D-Ill.) and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) met Tuesday evening in Cleveland for the 20th debate in the run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
MSNBC debate moderator Tim Russert pressed Obama on Farrakhan’s endorsement over the weekend, noting that the Nation of Islam leader had often made anti-Semitic remarks, once calling Judaism a “gutter religion.”
“I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments,” Obama said. “I think that they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an African-American who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can’t censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we’re not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally with Minister Farrakhan.”
Pressed by Russert to reject Farrakhan’s support, Obama said: “Tim, you know, I can’t say to somebody that he can’t say that he thinks I’m a good guy.”
Russert continued to challenge the candidate, noting that Obama’s pastor had expressed admiration for Farrakhan. Obama countered by noting his pro-Israel record, his speaking out against anti-Semitism in the black community and his strong support among Jews in Illinois and nationwide.
Russert appeared ready to leave the matter when Clinton interjected, noting that she had rejected the support of the New York Independence Party in her 2000 run for the Senate because a leader, Lenora Fulani, had made anti-Semitic comments.
“I made it very clear that I did not want their support,” she said. “I rejected it. I said that it would not be anything I would be comfortable with and it looked as though I might pay a price for that.”
Clinton said “there’s a difference between denouncing and rejecting,” and that although she believed Obama was sincere, “we’ve got to be even stronger.”
Obama did not see the difference, but added, “I’m happy to concede the point. And I would reject and denounce.” Clinton said, “Excellent,” spurring the biggest applause of the evening.
The debate was ahead of March 4 primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont.