President Trump is doubling down defiantly on his comments that there is “blame on both sides” for the deadly violence over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va. His remarks infuriated his critics and created a backlash from not only Democrats but Republicans too.
At a press conference that became an impromptu defense of the president’s words, Trump passionately defended his response to the violence at the “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia. He said that he was not slow in responding, but needed to “know the facts” before calling out neo-Nazis and the KKK.
When the president faced a storm of questions from reporters, he said that his first response about “many sides” was “excellent,” and that liberal counter-protesters whom he called the “alt-left” were just as much to blame as the white supremacists for the violence.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the — as you say, the alt-right?” Trump asked. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I am concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.”
Democrats and Republicans were quick to pounce on the president’s impromptu words declaring that they proved his recent statement about racism being “evil” as insincere.
“The president’s press conference today made plain that the statement he gave on Saturday is what he really believes,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “There is only one side to be on when a white supremacist mob brutalizes and murders in America. The American people deserve a president who understands that.”
Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd said he was not proud of Trump at the press conference. “Apologies,” Hurd said on CNN. “Racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism of any form is unacceptable. The leader of the free world should be unambiguous about that. I don’t think anybody should be looking at getting props from a grand dragon of the KKK as any kind of sign of success.”
The president had his aides surrounding him at the press conference at Trump Towers. Some of them appeared to be surprised by his comments. His words were supposed to be about infrastructure, but reporters kept firing questions about the rally. The reporters had been told that Trump would not be taking questions that day. White House chief of staff John Kelly stood to the side of where Trump spoke. He looked down and folded his arms across his chest. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders could be seen whispering to top communications aide Hope Hicks.
Trump seemed unrestrained and determined to share his feelings about the criticism. “I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it,” Trump said. “And you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that. But I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”
The president called the killing of Heather Heyer by the driver a “disgrace.” He said, “You can call this terrorism, you can call it murder, you can call it whatever you want,” he said. “The driver of the car is a murderer and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.” He has not yet contacted Heyer’s family but said that her mother’s statement “was a beautiful statement … I really appreciated it.”
Trump stressed that he wanted to take his time with the Charlottesville incident. He declared that not all of the white nationalists protesting were racists. Some, Trump said, had gathered to protest the taking down of a Confederate statue.
“I have condemned neo-Nazis. I have condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” Trump said. “Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.”
A reporter asked him whether he believed that the white supremacists were “treated unfairly.” That prompted this response, “You had a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest,” Trump said. “I don’t know if you know. They had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this: There are two sides to a story.”
Trump then accused the media of trying to whitewash history. He asked them if they would support removing statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson because they owned slaves. Trump said, “You’re changing history, you’re changing culture.”
Credit: The Hill