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Tillis: 'I Do' Regret Phrasing of 'Divide and Conquer' Comment

GOP candidate says he was referring to the abuse of public assistance funds by those who do not “desperately need the safety net."

The newly-minted Republican contender in what could be one of November’s key Senate races says he regrets using the words “divide and conquer” in a 2011 speech while describing those who are dependent on government assistance.

“Yeah, I do,” North Carolina GOP candidate Thom Tillis said Wednesday on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown when asked by host Chuck Todd if he regrets the use of the word “conquer.”

But Tillis, who secured the GOP nomination in last night’s primary election, also said he was referring to the abuse of public assistance funds by those who do not “desperately need the safety net” – a position he believes is backed by voters in North Carolina.

“The frustration is that we have people who are abusing the system at the expense of us being able to do more for the people who desperately need the safety net,” he said. “My point was to say we need to make it very clear: government exists to help those who cannot help themselves. And those who can need to do everything that they possibly can to let us free up those resources so that we can do better things for those who desperately need it.”

“When we explain what we’re talking about, we believe the citizens of North Carolina agree with it,” he added.

The GOP contender is under fire for comments he made in an unearthed 2011 video. “What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance,” he said at the time. “We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice, in her condition, that needs help and that we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say at some point, ‘You’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.’”

Democrats have compared the comments to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks.

On Wednesday, Tillis, who is the state House Speaker of North Carolina, also declined repeatedly to say whether he supports raising the minimum wage in the state.

Asked if he supports a federal hike, he responded that "minimum wage decisions need to be made by the state."

But he would not say how his home state should address it, calling it "a decision that the legislature needs to make with businesses."

“We’ve got a president and Kay Hagan that want to create a minimum wage economy,” he said. “What I want to do is create jobs that make minimum wage irrelevant.”