Trump jokes: Sometimes Hispanics ‘are too tough’ but ‘I have to deal with it’

President Donald Trump joked Friday afternoon at a Hispanic Heritage Month event that Latino leaders in the U.S. are sometimes “too tough,” honoring the Hispanic community for its contributions to the nation.

“You teach our children. You lead our churches. You protect our communities and you defend our nation. Among you are leaders in government, faith, and business. Fantastic people in this audience,” Trump said at the White House on Friday. “I know some of them, and believe me, they’re very tough and they’re very smart. Sometimes they’re too tough. But that’s OK. I have to deal with it. I have to deal with it. Fantastic people.”

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The lighthearted remark elicited a laugh from the crowd gathered in the White House’s State Dining Room. Trump seemed at ease Friday, delivering remarks that included a mixture of foreign and domestic policy seemingly peppered with his trademark off-the-cuff riffs. At one point, the president paused his speech altogether to leave the podium, apparently to shake hands with a Medal of Honor winner seated in the front row.

“Oh, wow, that’s so fantastic. Do you mind if I go up and shake hands? I’ll interrupt our speech, I want to shake hands with somebody,” Trump said, stepping away from the microphone as audience members held up camera phones to snap a photo. “I heard you were here. I’m glad I got to meet you.”

Amid a passage of his remarks section focused on ongoing hurricane recovery efforts, the president repeatedly pronounced Puerto Rico with an exaggerated Hispanic accent, which prompted a laugh from the audience. He also lauded Hispanic-American-owned small businesses, which he said are growing “at a tremendous rate, especially among our Latinas.”

The president’s warm remarks at Friday’s Hispanic Heritage Month event contrasted with what has at times been a rocky relationship between Trump and the Latino community. As a presidential candidate, Trump controversially suggested that a federal judge born of Hispanic descent could not fairly oversee a lawsuit against him, a remark that earned him rebukes from prominent members of his own party.

Trump also marked Cinco de Mayo in 2016 by posting a photo of himself eating a taco bowl in his Trump Tower office and once derided a Miss Universe winner from Venezuela by calling her “Miss Housekeeping.”

His policies, including a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that he has claimed would be paid for by the Mexican government as well as rescinding an Obama-era program that shielded undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, have met with criticism from many Hispanic leaders and groups.

The president steered clear of those policies Friday, instead promising to support the people of Cuba and Venezuela, who he said are oppressed by their governments. Trump also championed his proposed tax reform package, which he said will feature “the largest tax cuts in the history of our country.”

“Does anybody in this room mind getting a massive tax cut? Does anybody object to paying less taxes? I don’t see any hands,” he said. “Hispanic-American businesses and families will prosper like never before.”

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