President Donald Trump’s press conference Tuesday afternoon, originally scheduled to focus on U.S. infrastructure, deteriorated into a spirited argument over Saturday's controversial statement on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, prompting swift responses on social media.
Trump's statement on Saturday didn't specifically condemn the hate groups associated with the protest, and he qualified his remarks by putting blame on "many sides." A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 others were injured when a white nationalist protester plowed his car into a group organizing against the "Unite the Right" rally.
Trump eventually did condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis on Monday, but returned to the same talking points during Tuesday's argumentative question-and-answer segment with the press.
"I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame object on both sides," Trump said on his decision to not specifically refer to white supremacy on Saturday.
"What about the 'alt-left' that came charging at, as you say, at the 'alt-right?'" Trump said during Tuesday's press conference. "Do they have any assemblage of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do."
Reaction on both sides came quickly via social media, with the white nationalists who organized Saturday's rally supporting the president.
Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who coined the term "alt-right," tweeted the president’s statement was “fair and down to earth.” Spencer also critiqued the police, saying, “Charlottesville could have been peaceful, if police did its job.”
David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and an attendee at Saturday's protests, thanked Trump for his “honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists.”
However, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and political pundits expressed their discontent at the president backtracking on his handling of the violent, racially charged episode.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, slammed Trump’s speech, saying "as a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment. This is not my President."
As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment. This is not my President.— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) August 15, 2017
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, reposted his statement from Monday, writing, “seems like a good time to re-up these remarks" that America had "some soul-searching to do" in the wake of "this weekend's violence."
Seems like a good time to re-up these remarks --> https://t.co/TVQEND6gfr— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) August 15, 2017
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., followed in Hatch’s footsteps, writing that it was a “good time” to bring back his statement from Aug. 12, where he called on Trump to describe “the events in Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by white supremacists.”
Rubio took it a step further with a six-tweet thread to detail why the organizers of the rally were 100 percent to blame. Rubio wrote the protest organizers believe in "evil ideology which argues certain people are inferior because of race," and that the white supremacist groups will see being assigned "only 50% of blame" as a win.
They are adherents of an evil ideology which argues certain people are inferior because of race, ethnicity or nation of origin. 2/6— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 15, 2017
The #WhiteSupremacy groups will see being assigned only 50% of blame as a win.We can not allow this old evil to be resurrected 6/6— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 15, 2017
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump’s remarks “clearly show” he is seeking to divide the country.
“By saying he is not taking sides, Donald Trump clearly is. When David Duke and white supremacists cheer your remarks, you’re doing it very very wrong,” Schumer said in a statement.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who declared a state of emergency on Saturday, reminded Trump in a statement that “neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists came to Charlottesville heavily armed, spewing hatred and looking for a fight.”
“This was not ‘both sides’.... We need real leadership, starting with our President. Leaders from every corner of this nation and every partisan point of view have denounced these people and their acts in plain terms without hesitation or dissembling. ... The American people need the same from their President and we need it now,” McAuliffe added.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called out the president’s language referring to the different kinds of groups involved, tweeting, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are not 'many sides' to this.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are not “many sides” to this. pic.twitter.com/AosWtqVt3k— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) August 15, 2017
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., broke his silence, warning there can be “no moral ambiguity.”
“We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for,” Ryan added in his tweet.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., tweeted, “Trump just repeated his previous views of the moral equivalence of white supremacists and civil rights protesters in #Charlottesville,” adding, “@realDonaldTrump, there is no moral equivalence between those who fight for civil rights and white supremacists.”
He continued with a third tweet referencing the weekend protests against a statue of the Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, writing, “Washington and Jefferson fought to create this country. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson fought to preserve slavery. Not the same!”
Washington and Jefferson fought to create this country. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson fought to preserve slavery. Not the same!— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) August 15, 2017
Trump just repeated his previous views of the moral equivalence of white supremacists and civil rights protesters in #Charlottesville.— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) August 15, 2017
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., released a statement following the president's remarks, criticizing the speech in a larger racial context.
“From the beginning, President Trump has sheltered and encouraged the forces of bigotry and discrimination.We have seen the manifestation of this behavior in the hiring of White House staff members, but also in the unmistakable conduct of his Administration toward immigrants, Muslims, and communities of color,” Pelosi said.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez asked Americans to “not lose hope,” “not give in to fear,” and “not be intimidated by this sad excuse for a president” in his statement.
“We stand with you and we will never back down,” Perez said.
Former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., kept his comments simple, writing, “This President is an embarrassment.”
This President is an embarrassment.— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) August 15, 2017
More officeholders within the president’s own party expressed their discontent, with Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., writing, "Blaming "both sides" for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.”
Blaming "both sides" for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) August 15, 2017
Republican pollster Kristen Soltis-Anderson appeared unfazed by the situation, however, tweeting, “this is who he is. You don't get to be surprised anymore.”
This is who he is. You don't get to be surprised anymore.— Kristen S Anderson (@KSoltisAnderson) August 15, 2017
Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director under President Barack Obama, lambasted the entire GOP in his tweet: “This is on you, you did this, and only you can do something about this.”
Republican Party: This is on you, you did this, and only you can do something about this— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) August 15, 2017
The NAACP called today’s press conference “alarming” and “despicable,” adding “some things are left better unsaid."
The President proclaims that that both sides are to blame once again during a current press conference. #Charlottesville— NAACP (@NAACP) August 15, 2017
The Anti-Defamation League said the comparisons Trump made between white supremacists and the counter-protesters in the rally were "beyond the pale."