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Cuomo offers context for saying America 'was never that great'

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Governor's Office
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Cuomo spoke before women and girls on Wednesday when he signed a bill against sex trafficking.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo stirred some controversy Wednesday when he told an audience at a bill-signing ceremony in Manhattan that America “was never that great.”

“We’re not going to make America great again, it was never that great,” Cuomo said as some in the audience gasped in surprise.

It gained him sharp criticism from the Republican candidate for governor, Marc Molinaro, who said it was “shocking” and that Cuomo “owes the nation an apology.”

The governor also received critiques on social media.

Later in the day, Cuomo’s press secretary, Dani Lever, issued a statement saying the governor does believe that America “is great” and was merely making the point that the nation’s greatness has not yet been fully realized because inequalities exist.

Cuomo’s comments directly after his statement appear to bear that out.

“We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged,” Cuomo said.

Lever said it is Trump who is implying, through his campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again,” that the nation is not great now.

On Wednesday night, Trump tweeted, “WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, IT WAS NEVER THAT GREAT.” Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!"

In response, Cuomo tweeted: "What you say would be 'great again' would not be great at all...We will not go back to discrimination, segregation, sexism, isolationism, racism or the KKK. Like NY's motto says: Excelsior -- Ever Upward  (not backward)"

Later, Lever issued a longer clarification:

"Jessica Proud, spokesperson for the Republican Party said, 'America is & always has been the greatest.' She should talk to President Trump who says make America great again - which obviously means he doesn't think it is great now," he said. "Governor Cuomo disagrees with the President. The Governor believes America is great and that her full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman, and child has full equality. America has not yet reached its maximum potential."

New York State Senate Lader John Flanagan took the opportunity to express his "outrage."

"I couldn't disagree more. It's simple – America is the greatest country on the face of the earth. It has no equal. It has long served as a beacon of hope for immigrants throughout the world, who came here in search of a better life for themselves and their families. It has given countless citizens the opportunity to prosper and get ahead, and to live out their dreams. Together, America has helped win two World Wars, defended freedom across the globe, and brought democracy and peace to millions of people who yearned for it," the Republican said in a statement. "No matter what the Governor's radical leftist advisers want him to say, America was, is, and always will be great. The Governor should apologize today – not through a spokesperson – but with his own words and from his own mouth."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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