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Former GOP Rep.: If Leaders Are Silent, ‘They Wear The Cap’

After the events of the last week, when violent clashes broke out at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and President Trump faced bipartisan repudiation for his responses, one former member of Republican leadership has warned that if political leaders stay silent on what's happened, “they wear the cap.”

“Over the last seven months, there’s been ample opportunity to disagree with the president on many issues,” said former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts, who was previously the first African-American elected state-wide in Oklahoma, on Sunday’s “Meet The Press.”

Watts: When Leaders are Silent, They Are Agreeing With KKK 1:47

“This is not a time for us to be afraid of being tweeted. This is not a time for us to suppress our convictions. I know a lot of those members of Congress and they don’t think like that,” he told host Chuck Todd, referring to white supremacists and the KKK.

“However, Chuck, if they are silent, they wear the cap, either intentionally or unintentionally, they wear the cap saying, ‘we agree with that.’"

First elected to Congress in 1995, Watts served in Republican House leadership as chair of the House Republican Conference from 1999 to 2003.

Although most political leaders released statements this week, no member of current Republican leadership in Congress or any member of the White House senior staff was willing to speak on this Sunday’s "Meet The Press."

But Watts said he wanted to appear because his conscience would not allow him to keep quiet. All presidents, he explained, have what he calls “right now" moments, and Trump faced one of those after the events in Charlottesville, and did not respond in the right way.

“When circumstances like last weekend happen, I think we need moral clarity. A president speaks for himself, for his values and he speaks for those values, of those ‘right now’ moments and he speaks for the values of our country.”

Also on "Meet The Press," Andrew Young, a pioneer of the civil rights movement, called this week “a week of misunderstandings."

He attempted to place fault on economic discontent for why racism is seen in some white Americans.

“We originally sought to redeem the soul of America from the triple evils of race, war and poverty,” Young said of the civil rights era. “Most of the issues that we’re dealing with now are related to poverty. But we still want to put everything in a racial context.”

“The reason I feel uncomfortable condemning the Klan types is – they are almost the poorest of the poor,” he continued. “They are the forgotten Americans. And they have been used and abused and neglected. Instead of giving them affordable health care, they give them black lung jobs, and they’re happy. And that just doesn’t make sense in today’s world. And they see progress in the black community and on television and everywhere and they don’t share it.”

Full Watts Interview: 'Disappointed' in Faith Leaders on WH Council 7:44

Young is a former United Nations ambassador, former Atlanta mayor, and former congressman from Georgia.

He said one of the goals of their civil rights work was to “lift everybody up together ... so that we would learn to live together as brothers and sisters rather than perish together as fools.”

Trump is facing “a trap,” he said, because the president is still “politicking and thinking nationally, as a nationalist, and so is almost everybody else, including those who are trying to think back and blame it on the Civil War, which was hundreds of years ago.”

Last week, the president's business advisory councils dissolved after multiple corporate leaders resigned. Watts on "Meet The Press" said he was disappointed that members of President Trump's faith council also did not resign or speak out.

But he also indicated he isn’t sure whether President Trump is surrounded by anyone who could rightfully advise him on civil rights issues.

“I don’t know of anyone that’s in his inner circle that would be able to say to him, ‘Mr. President, when it comes to civil rights, when it comes to race issues, let me give you some hindsight, some insight, and some foresight ’ on these issues,” Watts said. “Now, he may have and he just doesn’t listen to them.”

Watts noted that the racial divide in America didn’t suddenly appear when President Trump was elected, or when President Obama was elected. However, since then it has “probably heightened and intensified.”

That said, he added, “we all have obligations to not put salt on the wound.”