White House says Biden ‘absolutely did not apologize’ for calling Laken Riley’s alleged killer an ‘illegal’

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The White House on Monday said President Biden “absolutely did not apologize” for referring to the alleged illegal immigrant killer of Georgia student Laken Riley as “an illegal” – the latest turn in a spiraling controversy over an unscripted remark at the State of the Union.

“First of all, I want to be really clear about something: the president absolutely did not apologize,” White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton told reporters when asked about why Biden “apologized.” “There was no apology anywhere in that conversation. He did not apologize. He used a different word.”

Biden had been urged by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to say the name of Riley, who was killed last month, allegedly by a Venezuelan national who entered the country illegally but was paroled into the interior.

BIDEN SAYS HE REGRETS USING ‘ILLEGAL’ TO DESCRIBE LAKEN RILEY MURDER SUSPECT DURING STATE OF THE UNION 

President Biden holds up a Laken Riley button as he delivers the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol, Thursday, March 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“Lincoln Riley [sic],” he said, holding up a badge with her name on it. “An innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal, that’s right.”

The use of the term “illegal,” even in reference to an alleged illegal immigrant murderer, rankled some Democrats and immigration activists who consider the word offensive.

“Let me be clear: No human being is illegal,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., on X, formerly known as Twitter.

BIDEN, IN STATE OF THE UNION, USES TERM FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS THAT HIS DHS WARNED AGAINST IN 2021

“As a proud immigrant, I’m extremely disappointed to hear President Biden use the word ‘illegal,’” Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Ill., said.

A photo of the UGA crime scene below photos of Laken Riley and suspect Jose Ibarra

Suspect Jose Ibarra lived within a five-minute walk of the approximate scene where he allegedly murdered 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley on Feb. 22. (Mark Sims for Fox News Digital/ Laken Riley/ Jose Ibarra)

Biden was later asked about the use of the word in an MSNBC interview and expressed regret for the perceived faux pas, while also claiming that illegal immigrants “built the country.”

“And I shouldn’t have used illegal, I should’ve… It’s undocumented. And look, when I spoke about the difference between Trump and me, one of the things I talked about on the border was his – the way he talks about vermin, the way he talks about these people polluting the blood. I talked about what I’m not going to do, what I won’t do. I’m not going to treat any, any, any of these people with disrespect. Look, they built the country. The reason our economy is growing, we have to control the border and more orderly flow. But I don’t share his view at all.”

When asked if he regrets his word choice, Biden replied, “Yes.” 

Biden’s response was savaged by many on the right, who interpreted his remarks as an apology.

“The president is cowering to his base and showing deference to a man who deserves none. This man is an illegal immigrant who brutally murdered Laken Riley. President Biden should be apologizing to Laken’s family. What an embarrassment,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., wrote on X on Sunday.

The White House on Monday, while clarifying that Biden was not apologizing for his remarks, accused his critics of “playing politics” and renewed its calls for Congress to pass a bipartisan border agreement that would increase funding and staffing while limiting some releases into the interior. The proposal has faced conservative opposition for what they say is a bill that would regularize high levels of illegal immigration. 

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“I think it’s unconscionable that there are some people who are playing politics with this young woman’s tragic murder, and particularly at a time when, let’s not forget, House Republicans are standing in the way of a bipartisan border security agreement,” Dalton, the White House spokesperson, said.

“That is the toughest bill we have ever seen in history. And they’re doing so because Donald Trump feels that the American people’s safety is less important than his personal politics,” she said.

Fox News’ Joseph Wulfsohn, Joshua Comins and Danielle Wallace contributed to this report.

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