Hillary Clinton Knocks Jeb Bush's Slogan At Urban League Conference

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Presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley addressed the National Urban League Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Friday morning.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Several presidential candidates went to Fort Lauderdale to talk to civil rights activists today. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Florida governor Jeb Bush were among those who appeared on the same stage at the National Urban League Conference. They took the stage with different messages about racial inequality. NPR's Greg Allen was there.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: This was an event reserved for Urban League members and the media. All the candidates received a polite reception, but it was clear from the introduction who the favorite was.

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HILLARY CLINTON: Good morning.

ALLEN: For Hillary Clinton, African-American voters are especially important. Barack Obama won with a historically high voter turnout among African-Americans in 2012. Clinton hopes to recapture as much of that support as possible. More than any of the other speakers, Clinton tailored her speech to address the concerns of the audience. It's important, she said, to realize racial discrimination is still holding many people in America back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: I'm not saying anything you don't already know. You understand this better than I do, better than anyone. But I want to say it anyway because I'm planning to be president, and anyone who seeks that office has a responsibility to say it.

ALLEN: Clinton talked about the disparity between incomes of white and black Americans and about the continued segregation of U.S. schools. Two other Democrats spoke - former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. But although invitations to speak went out to 13 Republicans, only two accepted - retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida governor Jeb Bush. At least in Florida, Bush has friends in the Urban League. Nearly 20 years ago, he partnered with the Urban League's Miami chapter to create the state's first charter school.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: And together, we got it done. That first year, 90 black children in Liberty City began their journey toward success. And the day that school opened was one of the happiest, proudest moments of my life.

ALLEN: As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush had a mixed record in his relations with African-American groups. In 1999, black groups launched protests after Bush ended affirmative action in admissions to state universities. He didn't mention that in his speech but did talk about another action he took as governor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUSH: Fourteen years ago, when the question was whether to keep the Confederate flag on the grounds of the Florida State Capitol, I said no and put it in a museum where it belongs.

ALLEN: Bush used his campaign catchphrase "right to rise" just one time, talking about education. Hillary Clinton did use it, however, to take aim at a candidate whose actions, she said, as president might not match his words.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: I don't think you can credibly say that everyone has a right to rise and then say you're for phasing out Medicare or for repealing Obamacare. People can't rise if they can't afford health care.

ALLEN: After his speech, Bush told reporters he hadn't heard Clinton's remarks. A Bush campaign spokeswoman called them, quote, "just more false, cheap political shots." Dotty Harrison, an Urban League member from Maryland, said she gave Bush credit for accepting the invitation and speaking to the group. But she believed many African-Americans will tie him to his brother, former president George W. Bush.

DOTTY HARRISON: We were hit. We, meaning African-Americans, were hit very hard with George W. And just like the mother said, we don't need another Bush in the White House.

ALLEN: An Urban League member from Virginia, Isabel Crocker, said she was impressed most by Clinton.

ISABEL CROCKER: The reality is how the world as she sees it through her eyes was realistic.

ALLEN: One phrase that came up today in the speeches of all three democrats - Clinton, O'Malley and Sanders all said black lives matter. Greg Allen, NPR News, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.