New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Harlem on Monday, derided President Trump as "the Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," in fiery and combative remarks in front of many top Democrats.
Jeffries, who recently was elected chairman of the influential House Democratic Caucus, made the comment during his address to the National Action Network (NAN) House of Justice, where attendees also included potential presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and liberal activist Al Sharpton.
"These are challenging times in the United States of America. We have a hater in the White House. A 'Birther-in-Chief,'" Jeffries said as the crowd cheered, referring to Trump's insistence in 2011 that then-President Barack Obama release his birth certificate. "The Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. One of the things that we've learned is that while Jim Crow may be dead, he's still got some nieces and nephews that are alive and well."
The Grand Wizard is a title that indicated the head of the racist hate group the Ku Klux Klan. "Jim Crow" laws referred to post-Reconstruction statutes that enforced racial discrimination.
"One of the things that we need to do is learn from the lessons of Dr. King and how he dealt with such hate in the '50s and '60s," Jeffries continued. "In 1963, I think it was the governor of Alabama who rose in his inauguration speech and said, 'Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.' And that was [former Democratic Alabama] Gov. George Wallace. But, Dr. King showed us in that very same year, that when haters rise up, you don't run from the problem, you run toward the problem."
Jeffries turned briefly to the ongoing partial federal government shutdown over border wall funding.
"We are not going to give Donald Trump one dime" for a border wall, Jeffries said, calling it a "5th-century solution to a 21st-century problem."
He went on to say, as the crowd loudly clapped and cheered: "If Donald Trump wants to build a wall, let him build it around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, so we don't have to be reminded of the long national nightmare that is the Trump presidency."
Sharpton, who posted photographs of the address on social media, wrote afterward that Jeffries, 48, had "delivered powerful remarks."
Monday's episode was not the first time Jeffries has used the racially charged epithet to refer to Trump. Last August, shortly after former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman released secretly recorded White House tapes, Jeffries tweeted that “Omarosa and Cohen are crushing this guy (Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave)."
And, in January 2018, Jeffries tweeted: "Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. has once again ripped the sheets off and exposed himself to the American People. What a DISGRACE." He also repeatedly has criticized what he's called the lack of racial diversity in the Republican Party.
Jeffries, the former whip for the Congressional Black Caucus, is a rising star within the Democratic Party. A 2011 profile in The Observer dubbed Jeffries “the Barack of Brooklyn," and his harsh criticisms of the Trump administration have won him a larger following on social media.
Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has shifted farther left since her appointment to the Senate in 2009, lashed out at Trump for inspiring "hate and darkness" in her own address -- and she was not the only potential 2020 White House contender to deliver remarks on Monday.
At a NAN breakfast in Washington earlier in the day, prospective 2020 Democratic presidential contender and former vice president Joe Biden -- who oversaw the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare -- charged that the quality of health care in the U.S. has been determined by "the color of your skin" and "your zip code."
And, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., used the holiday to launch a presidential campaign that, if successful, would make her the first woman and the second black candidate to become president.
President Trump and Vice President Pence made an unscheduled visit Monday to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington. Reporters traveling with him were not informed of Trump's destination until they arrived.
Trump tweeted earlier: "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."