GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz answers questions posed by Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  (Cliff Owen, AP)

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz answers questions posed by Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. (Cliff Owen, AP)

After days of tensions in Baltimore, GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz said President Obama has “inflamed” racial tensions.

“President Obama, when he was elected, could have been a unifying leader,” the Texas senator said at a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce forum Wednesday. “He has made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions.”

Baltimore was trying to right itself Wednesday, following violence that erupted earlier in the week after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody. Obama has condemned the rioting and vowed there will be a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding Gray’s death.

Cruz cited a remark made by Vice President Biden during the 2012 presidential campaign that Mitt Romney and the GOP are “going to put y’all back in chains.” The Romney campaign seized on the comment as a “new low,” while the Obama campaign said the context of Biden’s comment was meant to convey the risks of letting Wall Street operate unregulated under Republicans.

When asked to give an example of how Obama has inflamed racial tensions, Cruz said: “He has not used his role as president to bring us together. He has exacerbated racial misunderstanding and racial tension.”

Cruz cited Obama’s facilitation in 2009 of what’s known as the “beer summit,” in which the president brought together Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge, Mass., police force, at the White House after a racially charged dispute.

For more than hour, Cruz answered a variety of questions about energy independence, the economy, appealing to Hispanic voters posed by Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Javier Palomarez. The organization, which represents 3.2 million Hispanic business owners, hopes to have similar sessions with other presidential candidates.

On the subject of immigration, Cruz repeated criticisms of the Senate bill that would have tightened border security and granted a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

Cruz charged that Obama and Democrats “treat immigration as a political cudgel to scare Hispanics” into voting for them. He said it would better if Republicans and Democrats would focus on areas of agreement — such as increasing tech worker visas or boosting the border patrol. “We don’t have to solve every issue all at once,” he said.

Pablo Manriquez, director of Hispanic media for the Democratic National Committee, pushed back on Cruz’s claims.

“For millions of people seeking a better life in America, this isn’t about politics,” Manriquez said, standing by Obama’s executive actions on immigration and a comprehensive approach to overhauling the nation’s complex immigration system.

“Republicans like Ted Cruz are the ones playing politics with the future of these families by obstructing commonsense policies that keep families together and refusing to pass immigration reform,” he said.