IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Democratic, Republican Lawmakers Decry Trump's Latest Charlottesville Remarks

President Donald Trump left both parties aghast Tuesday after he gave a combative, freewheeling news conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Image: President Trump answers questions about his response to the events in Charlottesville in New York
President Donald Trump answers questions about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, as he speaks to reporters Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum — including two former presidents — continued to recoil from President Donald Trump's remarks Tuesday blaming "two sides" for the deadly violence that erupted from a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., issued a scathing statement Wednesday, saying the president's words are "dividing Americans, not healing them.”

"President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist, neo-Nazis and KKK members," Graham said.

On Tuesday, Trump gave a freewheeling press conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan in which he doubled down on the remarks he made Saturday blaming "many sides" after a car plowed through a group of counter-protesters who were demonstrating against an alt-right and white nationalist rally. He also equated white supremacists on the right to the "alt-left."

"There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for the country, but there are two sides to a story," the president said Tuesday.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday called Trump's decision to "draw some kind of equivalency" between the white nationalists and counter-protesters "pathetic."

"Just pathetic, isn't it?" Kasich told TODAY.

"This is terrible. The president of the United States needs to condemn these kinds of hate groups," added Kasich, who ran against Trump in the Republican presidential primary. "The president has to totally condemn this. It's not about winning an argument."

Republican lawmakers, including those in leadership, roundly condemned white supremacy, although many did not mention Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a statement Wednesday but did not name the president.

"There are no good neo-Nazis," the Kentucky lawmaker said. "We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head.”

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a tweet Tuesday: "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush relesed a joint statement Wednesday which also sidestepped the president, but called on Americans to "reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms."

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, called the white supremacists "racist, bigoted, Nazi" on Twitter.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another of Trump's primary challengers, offering some of the strongest criticism from a member of Trump's own party Tuesday.

"Mr. President, you can't allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain," he wrote. "When entire movement built on anger & hatred towards people different than you, it justifies & ultimately leads to violence against them."

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California said in a statement that the violence was "a direct consequence of the vile and hateful rhetoric and action from white supremacists," while House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana wrote on Twitter that "we must defeat white supremacy."

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, one of Trump's most vocal Republican critics, said in a statement: "We cannot accept excuses for white supremacy and acts of domestic terrorism. We must condemn them. Period."

Other Republicans, including members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, were more direct in criticizing the president for his remarks.

Flake's Senate colleague from Arizona, John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, tweeted: "There's no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry. The President of the United States should say so"

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan mocked the president for calling the white supremacists "very fine people," noting that they chanted "racist and anti-Semitic slogans."

Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania wrote on Twitter that the president "must stop the moral equivalency! AGAIN, white supremacists were to blame for the violence."

The lawmakers who spoke out immediately after the news conference saw the president's remarks as a shocking about-face from his prepared speech Monday.

In those remarks, he called racism "evil" and named the groups — the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists — calling them "repugnant" for causing the violent clash that left one person dead and 19 others injured.

"Blaming 'both sides' for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no," tweeted Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

Related: Trump Says 'Two Sides' Share Blame for Charlottesville Rally Violence

"No words," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., tweeted, along with a snippet of a video from Tuesday's news conference.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, a Democrat, blasted the president for equating the white nationalists and the counter-protesters.

"This is a time to choose sides — simple as that," he tweeted. "There is a right side and an immoral one."

The Virginia college town devolved into chaos last week when counter-protesters clashed with a chorus of white supremacists, who were protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Trump defended those protesters, arguing that it was unfair to suggest that all the torch-wielding marchers at the rally were Nazis or white supremacists. He also called the statue of Lee, a slave owner who commanded the Confederate Army, "very important."

"Great and good American presidents seek to unite not divide. Donald Trump's remarks clearly show he is not one of them," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on Twitter.

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., tweeted: "I did not attend the inauguration because I felt President Trump lacked 'moral legitimacy.' This is exactly what I was talking about."

Trump dubbed the counter-protesters the "alt-left," a spin on white supremacists who sometimes call themselves the "alt-right," a wing of the conservative moment that mixes racism with white nationalism and populism.

"The president's continued talk of blame 'on many sides' ignores the abhorrent evil of white supremacism, and continues a disturbing pattern of complacency around acts of hate from this president, his administration and his campaign for the presidency," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement.

"From the beginning, President Trump has sheltered and encouraged the forces of bigotry and discrimination," she added.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, also sharply rebuked the remarks.

"Neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists came to Charlottesville heavily armed, spewing hatred and looking for a fight. One of them murdered a young woman in an act of domestic terrorism. ... This was not 'both sides'," he said.

"We need real leadership, starting with our president," McAuliffe added.

Kasich on Wednesday stopped short of calling for Republicans to disavow Trump as president.

"I want him to do well," Kasich said. "I want Donald Trump to understand it's not about winning an argument — it's about bringing the country together."

Graham, however, vowed that the Republican party "will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world."