ROCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump declined to correct a questioner at a town hall event who incorrectly stated that President Barack Obama is Muslim, and the billionaire real estate mogul said he’d be “looking at” a claim that militants operate training camps on American soil.
Trump, who has a history of making controversial remarks about immigrants and other groups, was kicking off a town hall event Thursday evening in Rochester, New Hampshire — his first since Wednesday’s second Republican primary debate.
“We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims,” said the first man Trump called on to ask a question. “We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American.”
Trump, who was a driver of the “birther” movement that claimed Obama wasn’t born in the U.S, first responded with feigned exasperation — “We need the question,” he said, to laughs — but let the man continued.
“We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question,” the man in the audience continued. “When can we get rid of it?”
Trump did not dispute the man’s assertions and said he’d heard others raise the issue.
“We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. And you know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there,” said Trump. “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton tweeted late Thursday that Trump should disavow comments about Obama and insults of Muslims.
“Donald Trump not denouncing false statements about POTUS (president of the United States) & hateful rhetoric about Muslims is disturbing, & just plain wrong. Cut it out,” she tweeted.
Trump rival Chris Christie, asked about the incident in a morning television interview, said that “if somebody at one of my town meetings said something like that, I would correct him.” But Christie, appearing Friday on NBC’s “Today” show, also said it is up to Trump to decide how to handle such situations, saying, “I’m not going to lecture him about what to do.”
Trump did not respond to shouted questions about the exchange as he left the event, but his campaign released a statement in response that focused on the treatment of Christians in the country.
“The media wants to make this issue about Obama. The bigger issue is that Obama is waging a war against Christians in this country,” it read. “Christians need support in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake.”
Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said that the room was noisy and that Trump had trouble hearing the question.
But the questioner was speaking into a microphone, and his remarks could be heard clearly by several journalists sitting near the back of the gymnasium.
The incident evoked a moment during the 2008 campaign when Republican nominee John McCain took the microphone away from a woman who said she didn’t trust Obama because he was an “Arab.”
Trump’s questions about the president’s country of birth helped build his stature among some conservative voters and pushed Obama to release a copy of his birth certificate in 2011. But Trump has distanced himself from the issue during his current run.
Trump’s town hall, in a sweaty auditorium in Rochester, was also interrupted several times by a protester whose outbursts were met by hostility from the friendly crowd.