The Trump administration on Sunday tried to reframe the president’s earlier, vague statement that blamed “many sides” for violence in Charlottesville, Va., a day earlier, after his comments sparked outrage from at least a dozen prominent Republican lawmakers.
In a statement, the White House sought to clarify that the president condemns violence, bigotry and hatred, and it said “of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis and all extremist groups.”
The clarification came less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump seemingly blamed both white supremacists and counter-protesters for the vitriol and clashes in the Virginia college town, which resulted in three deaths and left about 20 people injured.
Democrats and civil rights groups jumped on Trump’s initial statement to cast the administration as tolerant of well-known hate groups and ill-equipped to stand for all Americans.
“He must take responsibility for his role in propagating white nationalist ideology and fueling their movement,” said Scott Simpson, Public Advocacy Director of Muslim Advocates. “We call on him to immediately denounce the white supremacy movement by name and remove those who condone white supremacy, like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, from the White House.”
Trump also drew criticism from his own party for the remarks, which were interpreted as too weak. “Mr. President — we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists,” tweeted Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican.
On Sunday morning, the Trump administration tried to mollify its critics with appearances by a handful of senior administration officials on news programs.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” national security adviser H.R. McMaster called the Charlottesville clashes an act of “domestic terrorism.” This echoed the words of Republican lawmakers such as Sens. Gardner and Marco Rubio, who made such pronouncements on Twitter in an effort to put distance between themselves and the president.
The president’s daughter Ivanka Trump also weighed in via Twitter. “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis,” her post read.
Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert also condemned Nazis and white supremacists after CNN journalist Jake Tapper pressed him. But this came after he first doubled down on the president’s Saturday address, also blaming “many sides” for the violence — which critics say equates the actions of the white supremacists with the counter-protesters.