Sherrod Brown calls Trump 'a racist' amid scandal of Northam yearbook photo

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on Sunday decided to take a shot at the president – calling out Donald Trump and blaming the president for stirring a racial divide in the country, amid the mounting scandal over Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook photo.

Brown – who is mulling a 2020 presidential bid – said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump has built his political career on playing racial politics and that his business empire, and that of Trump’s father, employed widespread housing discrimination.

“We have a president who’s a racist,” Brown said. “He built his political career knowing what he was doing, questioning the legitimacy and the birthplace of the president of the United States. I know early there have been all kinds of news reports about what he did early in his career with housing.”

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Brown’s comments come amid controversy over a photograph in the Virginia governor’s 1984 medical school yearbook page that featured a man in blackface and a second person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. While Northam on Friday apologized for appearing in a photograph, on Saturday the governor reversed course and said he wasn't in the picture after all.

Brown has been one of Trump’s biggest critics in the Senate and has been testing the waters ahead of the 2020 primary season.

During a stop in the early caucus state of Iowa last week, Brown argued that working-class voters who backed Trump have been betrayed, notably by the Republican-signed tax bill that benefited wealthy Americans more.

"It's not just the middle class, it's the broad spectrum of people who work hard and just simply don't get a break these days," Brown told the audience, who turned out in sub-zero weather in the town of 3,800 where manufacturing jobs have sharply waned over the past decade.

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Like Ohio, where Trump won in 2016 on the strength of working-class voters, Brown's other stops on his three-day Iowa itinerary underscore his central argument as a potential 2020 presidential contender: That he understands economically challenged Midwestern voters who helped make Trump president.

“I represent a state where Trump’s promises of bringing back jobs and re-industrialization and opening up new factories have clearly just fallen flat,” Brown said on Sunday’s appearance on “Meet the Press.” “He's done nothing about these promises, so I know a whole lot about a president over promising and breaking those promises and selling out and betraying workers.”

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Brown has said some Democrats wrongly divide the party into its liberal base and working-class voters, chiefly those non-college-educated white voters who lifted Trump not just in Ohio, but also in swing states Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

During more than 25 years in Congress, Brown has championed worker-friendly trade and tax policies. He is also a close ally of labor unions, and has also supported liberal causes such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage and opposition to the Iraq war.

Brown attributes his re-election to a third Senate term last year to the resonance of a message to workers who feel left behind, while also embracing his party's liberal base, including its growing racial and ethnic diversity.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.