Lawmakers slam Trump for delay in denouncing hate groups by name

Trump denounced the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Monday.

ByABC News
August 14, 2017, 8:38 PM

— -- After bipartisan criticism of his response to unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Trump publicly condemned white supremacists and other hate groups by name for the first time since violence broke out.

Racism is evil,” Trump said on Monday. “Those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the [Ku Klux Klan], neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

“As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America,” he added.

Trump condemned the hate groups two days after a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville turned deadly. Heather Heyer, 32, died after a man intentionally drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, and 35 others were injured. James Alex Fields Jr., an alleged Nazi sympathizer, has been charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count related to leaving the scene.

While Trump addressed the violence in Charlottesville during a briefing on Saturday, calling for “the swift restoration of law,” he failed to mention the hate groups by name, instead condemning “violence on many sides.”

Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, thanked Trump for his words of “comfort and for denouncing those who promote violence and hatred” after his address on Monday.

A significant number of lawmakers criticized his delay in condemning those groups.

“It shouldn’t take the president of the United States two days to summon the basic decency to condemn murder and violence by Nazis and white supremacists,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

“If the president is sincere about rejecting white supremacists, he should remove all doubt by firing Steve Bannon and the other alt-right white supremacist sympathizers in the White House,” she added.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., kept his response short, tweeting, “Well done Mr. President” after Trump’s comments on Monday.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said he didn’t understand why it was, as a reporter asked, “so hard” for Trump to come out strongly against hate groups. “I don’t know that. I don’t understand it. That’s something — the White House would have to answer that question, and I’m not in a position to answer that question,” Heller told ABC affiliate KOLO.

But he also said he fully agrees with Trump’s remarks from today. “I think what the president said this morning on the topic, I agree with 100 percent. There is no room for bigotry and racism in this country,” Heller added.

A spokesperson for Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said he “applauds the president for clearly communicating the evilness of racism and clearly calling out the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.”

But Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., criticized Trump’s initial response and delay in condemning the groups involved.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a former governor of the state, took a different stance, telling MSNBC that Trump “sounded presidential,” but Warner added that he “wished [Trump] would have said those words on Saturday.”

“But I will give the president the benefit today. He said those words, and now we have to make sure his Department of Justice acts on those words. We fully pursue not only this one individual [Fields] ... but the DOJ will also go after these hate groups across the country, because they’ll be back,” Warner told MSNBC.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said she found it puzzling how Trump “didn’t hesitate to attack” Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier over his resignation but “balks at calling out avowed white supremacists.”

Trump accused Frazier of focusing on “lower rip-off drug prices” on Monday, just hours after Frazier resigned from the president’s American Manufacturing Council in what he described as a stand “against intolerance and extremism.”

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., criticized the president on Twitter shortly after his speech, writing, “Donald Trump’s decision to support Arpaio *during* the Charlottesville crisis, as he refused to condemn white supremacy, speaks volumes.”

Beyer was referring to former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt for refusing a state judge’s order to stop targeting people he believed were unauthorized immigrants during traffic patrols. Trump told Fox News on Sunday that he is “seriously considering” a pardon for Arpaio.

Beyer pointed out that it took two full days of bipartisan criticism and “pleading by aides” as well as senior officials like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and first daughter Ivanka Trump for the president to “issue this basic condemnation.”

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., wrote in a series of tweets that while he was pleased Trump “finally identified this hate,” such comments should have come 47 hours earlier and that “words only mean so much.” Quigley added that America was “watching & waiting.”

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, wrote in a tweet, “Let’s hope the President’s words begin to unite what white supremacists and bigotry in VA aimed to divide.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., responded to Trump’s brief remarks in two tweets, calling it “inexcusable” that he waiting so long.

“Denouncing white supremacists, KKK, & neo-Nazis should have been instinctive & instant. Trump’s failure shows lack of moral leadership,” Blumenthal wrote. “Delay greatly dilutes the message.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez also criticized Trump’s delay, writing, “History won’t forget that when the streets of Charlottesville echoed with evil, Donald Trump responded with silence.”

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., tweeted, “It shouldn’t take 72 hours for the President to condemn Nazis marching in the street.”

ABC News’ Ali Rogin contributed to this report.

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