WASHINGTON President Barack Obama said on Monday he should not have used the word "enemies" to describe his political opponents as Republicans sought to make an issue of the comment a day before congressional elections.
Obama, in an interview with talk radio host Michael Baisden, said, "I probably should have used the word 'opponents' instead of enemies."
He was backtracking from a comment he made a week ago in an interview with Univision radio in which he sought to persuade Hispanics to vote for Democratic candidates instead of Republicans.
"If Latinos sit out the election instead of, 'we're going to punish our enemies and we're going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us' -- if they don't see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it's going to be harder," Obama had said.
Republicans in hot pursuit of control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday voting were drawing attention to Obama's "enemies" comment in hopes of encouraging more turnout by Republican voters.
Hammering home the issue was John Boehner, the Republican who would oust Democrat Nancy Pelosi as House speaker if Republicans win control of the House on Tuesday as most pollsters believe will happen.
"Today, sadly, we have president who uses the word 'enemy' for fellow Americans ... fellow citizens. He uses it for people who disagree with his agenda of bigger government ... people speaking out for a smaller, more accountable government that respects freedom and allows small businesses to create jobs," Boehner planned to say in Cincinnati.
"Mr. President, there's a word for people who have the audacity to speak up in defense of freedom, the Constitution, and the values of limited government that made our country great. We don't call them 'enemies.' We call them 'patriots,'" he planned to say.
Obama told Baisden that he was talking about opponents of a comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. immigration system. Hispanics have been disappointed that Obama has not pushed ahead on immigration legislation, which Republicans oppose.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jackie Frank)