White House spokesman Josh Earnest says he feels "sorry for Rudy Giuliani today" after the former Republican New York mayor's comments that President Obama doesn't love the United States -- or the people in it -- drew widespread backlash from Democrats.
Earnest said Obama has repeatedly declared his love of country and has promoted the United States as a force for good in the world.
"It is sad to see when somebody who has attained a certain level of public stature and even admiration tarnishes that legacy so thoroughly," Earnest said.
Giuliani made the controversial comments at a Manhattan event Wednesday night.
"I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America," the former mayor and presidential hopeful said. "He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
The next morning, Mayor de Blasio said Giuliani's comments were "very, very low, even for him" and called them a "cheap political trick." Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said it's time for Republican leaders to "stop this nonsense."
Several likely GOP candidates declined to get involved Thursday. Giuliani, meanwhile, softened his remarks somewhat in an interview, saying he didn't mean to question the president's patriotism.
Asked about Obama in an interview with Fox News, Giuliani said he wasn't "questioning his patriotism. He's a patriot, I'm sure. What I'm saying is, in his rhetoric, I very rarely hear him say the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things that I used to hear Bill Clinton say, about how much he loves America."
The private dinner was attended by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is considering a 2016 campaign. Giuliani said that "with all our flaws we're the most exceptional country in the world. I'm looking for a presidential candidate who can express that, do that and carry it out."
"And if it's you Scott, I'll endorse you," Giuliani said, addressing Walker. "And if it's somebody else, I'll support somebody else."
Walker, asked about the comments in an interview with CNBC, did not directly address whether he agreed with the former mayor.
"The mayor can speak for himself. I'm not going to comment on whether — what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well," Walker said. "I'll tell you, I love America, and I think there are plenty of people, Democrat, Republican, independent, everywhere in between, who love this country."