The son of Martin Luther King Jr. criticized Vice President Mike Pence on Monday for comparing President Trump to the late civil rights leader.
On the federal holiday honoring his father, Martin Luther King III told the annual National Action Network breakfast in Washington, “I wonder what my father would be thinking” of the comparison with Mr. Trump.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was a bridge builder, not a wall builder,” he said. “Martin Luther King Jr. would say love, not hate, will make America great.”
In an appearance Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” the vice president compared Dr. King to the president.
“You think of how he changed America,” Mr. Pence said of King. “He inspired us to change through the legislative process to become a more perfect union. That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on Congress to do: Come to the table in the spirit of good faith. We’ll secure our border and we’ll reopen the government.”
At the breakfast, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden accused Mr. Trump and his supporters of deliberately fomenting racial divisions, pointing to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, in which a woman was killed.
“We’ve learned in the last two years it doesn’t take much to awaken hate, to bring those folks out from under the rocks,” Mr. Biden said. “We saw it in Charlottesville, as Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis literally slunk out of their dark rooms, their digital hideaways, their crazed and vicious faces literally contorted, illuminated by torchlight … and confronted by decent, honorable Americans. They have been deliberately reawakened again, those forces … unearthed by loose talk, by direct appeals to prejudice, from the alt-right.”
He said Mr. Trump’s comments after the incident were “something I’d never thought I’d live to see again — having a president of the United States make a moral equivalence between those who were spreading the hate and those who were opposing it, saying there were ‘very fine people on both sides.’ “
“No president since the Civil War had ever, ever, ever uttered words like that,” Mr. Biden said.
The president and Mr. Pence observed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by visiting the memorial to the civil rights legend in Washington. They placed a wreath at the memorial.
Mr. Trump also tweeted, “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.”
The wreath-laying had not been listed on Mr. Trump’s daily schedule. His action came after the Rev. Al Sharpton blasted Mr. Trump at the NAN breakfast for not planning to hold any observance of the holiday.
“This is an insult to the American people that the president of the United States does not officially recognize or give any ceremony for Dr. King,” Mr. Sharpton said.
Last year, Mr. Trump spent the King holiday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. He was criticized for golfing that day rather than participating in a public service event as had some previous presidents.
Former President Barack Obama held events each year on the holiday such as community service at food pantries.
Mr. King III said he can’t truly celebrate the holiday due to the partial government shutdown.
“I don’t know how we celebrate when everyday workers can’t work,” Mr. King said. “The Coast Guard can’t even get paid. And nobody seems to care. There’s something wrong with that. Many of us have to go through airports today, and every day less and less [TSA] folks are showing up. I don’t blame them. They’ve got to figure out how to make ends meet because the government is shut down.”
He added, “So we observe Dr. King’s birthday, we don’t celebrate it. We can’t celebrate it as long as there’s police brutality and misconduct. We can’t celebrate as long as children are being divided from their families.”