New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says America 'was never that great,' angering Trump and Republicans

America “was never that great” and won’t be great until all Americans share true equality, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday in a speech blasting Republican President Donald Trump and his slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Cuomo, considered a potential White House contender in 2020, made the remarks at a bill-signing event in Manhattan. He said Trump wants to return to a period of greater sexism, racism and intolerance toward immigrants.

Cuomo also said New York would strive to be a liberal alternative where people of all backgrounds have the same opportunities.

“We’re not going to make America great again — it was never that great,” said Cuomo, who is running for a third term this November. “We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged.”

The crowd at the event reacted with surprised gasps and laughter to the comments, which were highly unusual for a politician of Cuomo’s stature and experience.

Late Wednesday night, Trump tweeted in bold letters Cuomo’s “it was never that great” comment,” adding “Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!”

Earlier in the day, other Republicans were quick to pounce on the remark.

“America, with its imperfections, has always been great,” said Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who faces Cuomo in this year’s election. “Mr. Cuomo owes the nation an apology. He should be ashamed of himself.”

‘An insulting thing to say’: Republican rival

Brian Kolb, the minority leader of the state assembly, tweeted that Cuomo’s remark was “inexcusable & reprehensible.”

Marc Molinaro, Republican candidate for governor in November, said Cuomo needs to make an apology.

“It’s an insulting thing to say to Gold Star moms, to men and women fighting overseas, and to folks who died in service,” Molinaro said in an interview Thursday morning with Fox and Friends.

“Even with our imperfections, this nation, its promise, its purpose, its principles, and its people have always been great.”

Republican New York gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro said Cuomo owes the public an apology. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

A spokesperson for Cuomo later backtracked on the governor’s comments in a statement seeking to clarify the point he was making.

“The governor believes America is great and that her full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman, and child has full equality,” Cuomo press secretary Dani Lever said in a statement. “When the president speaks about making America great again — going back in time — he ignores the pain so many endured and that we suffered from slavery, discrimination, segregation, sexism and marginalized women’s contributions.”

It’s not the first time Cuomo has accused Republicans of peddling a nostalgic era that never existed, as he made similar comments with his allotted time at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“I want to know what good old days do they want to take us back to,” said Cuomo. “Do they want to take us before the Civil Rights Act? Do they want to take us back before minimum wage and worker protection laws? Or do they want to take us back before Roe vs. Wade?

“Well, we have a different vision. We’re not going back, we’re going forward.”

The war of words between Cuomo and Trump, a native New Yorker, escalated in recent days when Trump, on a visit to upstate New York, said Cuomo had called him and promised not to challenge Trump in 2020. Cuomo denied the president’s account.

Cuomo faces former Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon in next month’s Democratic primary.

With files from CBC News

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