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Paul Ryan Defends Poverty-Inner City Link: 'This Has Nothing To Do With Race'

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AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta

The House Budget Committee chairman told Crew of 42's Lauren Victoria Burke on Wednesday that his comments, made earlier in the day on Bill Bennett's "Morning In America," were taken out of context.

“It was a long talk and he asked about the culture and I just went off of that,” Ryan told Burke. “This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It never even occurred to me. This has nothing to do with race whatsoever."

“This isn’t a race based comment it’s a breakdown of families, it’s rural poverty in rural areas, and talking about where poverty exists — there are no jobs and we have a breakdown of the family," he explained, repeating "This has nothing to do with race.”

His comments had drawn sharp criticism from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who blasted them as a "thinly veiled racial attack" and argued he used "inner city" and "culture" as code words for "black."

But in his conversation with Burke, Ryan shifted to talking about a lack of jobs in the context of "rural poverty." As Think Progress pointed out, government data shows that poverty is becoming increasingly concentrated in rural rather than urban areas, so the congressman is on the money there.

The poverty problem has consumed Ryan in recent weeks. The Wisconsin Republican released a report earlier this month casting doubt on federal anti-poverty programs, then slammed Democrats' support for food assistance programs in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference with a story about free school lunch that turned out to be untrue.