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The White House is defending late-night comedian Larry Wilmore's use of the n-word during his routine at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner over the weekend, saying that President Barack Obama "appreciated the spirit and the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed," the Washington Post reports.

Wilmore caused a buzz over the weekend when he concluded his remarks with a reference to Obama's historical importance as the nation's first black president, and then added, "So, Mr. President, if I’m going to keep it 100: Yo, Barry, you did it, my n—ga. You did it." 

Obama hugged Wilmore after his remarks, but his use of the n-word drew harsh criticism on social media and beyond. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Rev. Al Sharpton told its reporters at MSNBC's after-party that the reference was "at best in poor taste."

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The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart published a blog criticizing Wilmore for the performance.

"But never before has the n-word been used to address the president. At least, not in public and most definitely not to his face. That’s why Wilmore’s use of it was as shocking as it was disrespectful. And that’s why many African Americans in the room and watching on television were appalled by Wilmore’s excessive and inappropriate down-home familiarity with the leader of the free world in front of the world," Capehart wrote. 

On Monday, when April Ryan, the Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, questioned White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest about Wilmore's comments, Earnest brushed them off, pointing out that "comedians are gonna go right up to the line."

"Any comedian who's signed up to follow President Obama at the White House Correspondents' dinner is assuming one of the most difficult tasks in comedy. Just by the nature of the engagement, that's a tough job, following the president of the United States," Earnest said. "It's not the first time in the Monday after the correspondents' dinner that some people have observed that the comedian at the dinner crossed the line."

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Earnest added that he had discussed the routine with Obama Monday morning and that the president expressed no hangups about it. 

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"He said that he appreciated the spirit and the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed," he said. "He ended his speech by saying that he couldn't put into words the pride that he felt in this president, and he made the observation that this country has made remarkable progress in this lifetime.

"I'm confident that Mr. Wilmore used the word by design. He was seeking to be provocative. But I think any reading of his comments makes it clear he was not using the president as a butt of a joke," Earnest added.

Read more at the Washington Post