ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, running for a third term and a potential candidate for president in 2020, acknowledged Friday that he was "inartful" when he said this week that America "was never that great."
The Democrat went on to expound on something that few elected officials ever need to spell out.
"I want to be very clear: Of course America is great and of course America has always been great," Cuomo said on a teleconference with reporters.
Cuomo's appraisal of the nation was somewhat different Wednesday when, speaking at a Manhattan bill signing, he critiqued Republican President Donald Trump and his slogan, "Make America Great Again."
"We're not going to make America great again — it was never that great," Cuomo told the audience, which reacted with gasps and laughter. "We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged."
The comment set off a wave of criticism of Cuomo.
New York Republicans demanded an apology and purchased Cuomo a one-way bus ticket to Montreal. Trump tweeted that Cuomo was having a "total meltdown." Cuomo primary challenger and former "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon accused Cuomo of trying to sound like a liberal and failing. CBS late night host Stephen Colbert said the comment was "the dumbest thing you could say as a politician."
Trump ridiculed Cuomo again Friday in several tweets, comparing the comment from "Hightax Andrew Cuomo" to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's use of the word "deplorables" to describe many Trump supporters during the 2016 campaign.
"I say Andrew's was a bigger and more incompetent blunder," Trump tweeted. "He should easily win his race against a Super Liberal Actress, but his political career is over!"
In response, Cuomo tweeted Friday evening, "We know how tough Trump is: hiding behind tweets & ripping babies from their mothers' arms. Let's get something straight: America is great because it rejects your hate-filled agenda of bigotry & sexism."
Other critics took issue with Cuomo's use of the word "inartful" when trying to walk back his comment.
"That falls well short of the apology he owes," said Republican lawmaker Brian Kolb, the minority leader in the state Assembly.
During Friday's teleconference, Cuomo said he has no plans to run for president but will continue his criticism of Trump, who attended a Long Island fundraiser Friday. Calling the president "vindictive, petty and small," Cuomo said "Make America Great Again" reflects Trump's desire to return America to a time of greater intolerance and inequality.
"Everything he does is repugnant to our values," he said.