WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, facing mounting pressure from Republicans and Democrats alike, did what he declined to do over the weekend during an event at the White House on Monday when he directly condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis in a brief statement to reporters.
“Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said in response to the attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
“Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America,” Trump said.
The comments came in a hastily scheduled White House event in the Diplomatic Reception Room, where Trump — speaking with the help of a teleprompter — spoke straight to camera after meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss the Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into the attack.
“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable,” he said. “Justice will be delivered.”
Trump had been excoriated for his unwillingness to condemn the groups behind the violent protests that left one woman dead who was hit by a car allegedly driven by a man with ties to white supremacy groups.
After blaming the violence “on many sides” Saturday, Trump stayed silent for close to 48 hours, letting his trademark bluntness and campaign pledges to call terrorism what it is succumb to silence and vagueness.
Trump was asked by reporters after he spoke why he waited so long to condemn these hate groups by name and did not respond.
Trump added that the victims in Charlottesville “embody the goodness and decency of our nation.” The President said the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was killed Saturday when a car slammed into a crowd of counterprotesters, “fills us with grief.” And said the two officers killed in a helicopter crash on Saturday — pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates — “exemplify the very best of America.”
“In times such as these, America has always shown its true character — responding to hate with love, division with unity, and violence with an unwavering resolve for justice,” Trump said.
Trump’s comments came as he took a short break from his 17-day long working vacation in New York and New Jersey with a trip to the White House. He initially returned to Washington to meet with top administration officials and sign a presidential memorandum directing his US trade representative to determine whether an investigation is needed into China’s laws and policies related to trade and intellectual property.
But by Monday morning, after nearly 48 hours of pressure on the White House, Trump and his top aides seemingly realized that pressure was too great and that a statement needed to be delivered.
“As a candidate I promised to restore law and order to our country, and our federal law enforcement agencies are following through on that pledge,” Trump said. “We will spare no resource in fighting so that every American child can grow up free from violence and fear. We will defend and protect the sacred rights of all Americans and we will work together so that every citizen in this blessed land is free to follow their dreams, in their hearts, and to express the love and joy in our souls.”
Trump led his brief statement by touting his return to Washington and positive economic news. One aide said the President wanted to give the “full picture” of how he sees things — not only wanting to do Charlottesville in a vacuum. And said the President’s initial focus on economic news was not ad-libbed.
This was the White House’s latest attempt to clarify Trump’s comments from Saturday, and by far the most forceful.
An unnamed White House official said Sunday that “of course” the President condemns “white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups,” but declined to explain why the President wasn’t saying it himself.
Before Trump made a statement, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a “no tolerance” message during a brief discussion with reporters in Cartagena, Colombia.
“We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK,” said Pence, calling them “dangerous fringe groups.”
Trump remained silent even after Pence’s comment, remaining silent event on Twitter. By declining to send a single tweet of his own, Sunday was only the fourth in his 207 days as president that Trump has gone a full day without tweeting a message.
Trump did, however, use Twitter on Monday to push his political message and settle a score: He slammed Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck Pharma, who resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council over his failure to condemn white supremacists.
“Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES,” Trump tweeted.
Frazier, one of the nation’s top African-American CEOs, has spent considerable time at the White House with Trump before he resigned his position.