President Barack Obama stepped up his call for civility in the increasingly coarse 2016 presidential race, which has in recent weeks been marked by violence and racist language, saying that candidates were setting a bad example for children and tarnishing America's standing around the world.
"We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities, at Americans who don't look like us or pray like us or vote like we do. We've seen misguided attempts to shut down that speech," Obama said Tuesday during an annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon on Capitol Hill. "However offensive it may be, we live in a country where free speech is one of the most important rights that we hold. In response to those attempts, we've seen actual violence. And we've heard silence from too many of our leaders."
"The longer that we allow the political rhetoric of late to continue, and the longer that we tacitly accept it, we create a permission structure that allows the animosity in one corner of our politics to infect our broader society, and animosity breeds animosity," he added.
Obama said the race "wasn't an accurate reflection of America, and it has to stop." He said politicians owed it to children of the country to renounce the violence, saying, "We should not have to explain to them this darker side" in U.S. politics.
At one point, Obama turned to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to note that while they disagree on policy, they ought to be able to treat each other with respect.
"I don't have a bad thing to say about you as a man," Obama said, as Ryan nodded back, according to a White House pool report. "I know you want what's best for America."
Trump on Monday denied escalating violence that has taken place during some of his rallies -- violence that he has openly encouraged by promising to pay legal fees of his supporters.
“The press is now going, they're saying, 'Oh, but there's such violence.' No violence," the businessman said during a rally in North Carolina on Monday. "You know how many people have been hurt at our rallies? I think, like, basically none except maybe somebody got hit once."
“It’s a love fest. These are love fests,” Trump added later. “And every once in a while somebody will stand up and they’ll say something. ... It’s a little disruption, but there’s no violence. There’s none whatsoever.”