The governor made the comment while signing a bill Wednesday for stricter penalties for sex traffickers.
“The simple point is all this comes down to: We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great,” he said.
There were gasps from the audience and Cuomo tried to explain himself.
“We will reach greatness when discrimination and stereotyping against women – 51 percent of our population – is gone and every woman’s full potential is realized,” he said.
It seemed to be a jab at President Donald Trump, and Republicans, including the president, fired back.
“Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!” Trump tweeted.
Soon after, the governor retweeted the president, writing, “What you say would be ‘great again’ would not be great at all…We will not go back to discrimination, segregation, sexism, isolationism, racism or the KKK. Like NY’s motto says: Excelsior — Ever Upward (not backward).”
Cuomo’s opponents said they’re stunned by his remarks.
“Andrew Cuomo is struggling really hard to sound like a progressive,” former “Sex and the City” star and Democratic challenger Cynthia Nixon said Thursday morning. “Obviously the greatest thing about America has always been the promise of America — the promise of America as being a place of freedom and opportunity for all.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro posted, “Tell those who gave their lives in service to a grateful nation… America, with its imperfections, has always been great.”
State Republican Chairman Ed Cox added, “It’s shocking that Andrew Cuomo would make such an offensive remark that insults the people of this country, the ideals upon which she was founded.”
Trying to do damage control, the governor’s team issued a statement, saying Cuomo does think America is great but that her full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman and child has full equality.
Cuomo faces Nixon in next month’s Democratic primary. The two will square off in a one-on-one debate at Hofstra University on Wednesday, Aug. 29, airing at 7 p.m. on CBS2.