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"Those weren't the sermons that the president heard in church."
Former White House adviser David Axelrod clashed with TV host Bill O'Reilly Monday night over President Barack Obama's associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the Rev. Al Sharpton — two controversial figures known for their oft-times contentious comments.
O'Reilly started the segment by bringing up Wright, who was Obama's pastor for years before the then-2008 presidential candidate distanced himself from Wright after eyebrow-raising sermons became public.
The host called him a "radical preacher" and said he didn't understand Obama's association with him. Axelrod, though, defended the relationship and said that, in addition to the controversy, O'Reilly should also point out that Wright was an honored U.S. Marine and a well-known religious leader.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright (AP)
"Rev. Wright was his minister. And … you call him whatever you call him," Axelrod responded. "Obviously, some of the things he has said were incendiary, but that wasn't the relationship that the president had with him … those weren't the sermons that the president heard in church. Those weren't the sermons that he regularly delivered."
From there, O'Reilly pressed Axelrod over Obama's increasingly apparent relationship with Sharpton, questioning why the controversial civil rights leader has been given so much time and attention in the White House.
"I mean, are you kidding me with Al Sharpton?" he said.
But Axelrod said that neither he nor O'Reilly get to decide "who leaders in the community are" and that "Al Sharpton is widely regarded as a leader within the African American community."
When O'Reilly questioned whether Obama respects Sharpton, Axelrod said that he believes he does.
FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2009 file photo, Rev. Al Sharpton, right, and Rev. Jesse Jackson attend a news conference in Washington to discuss undercounting of blacks in the census. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
"I think he respects his leadership on some of these civil rights issues," he said. "Yes I do."
O'Reilly said that he simply can't understand why Obama would elevate Sharpton to such a profound level.
"There are so many other good civil rights leaders — not polarizing, not anti-cop, not tax dodgers," he said. "So many — and why this guy has reached that pinnacle I don't know."
Watch the exchange below:
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