WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacy during a televised presidential debate brought criticism Wednesday from senators on both sides of the political aisle.
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., a former synagogue president from Las Vegas, took the president to task in a Senate speech just hours after Republican senators said it was “unacceptable” not to condemn white supremacist groups. The GOP lawmakers urged Trump to do so.
“On the global stage, in the year 2020, the leader of the free world gave an unequivocal wink and nod to white supremacists, racists, and neo-Nazis — all while the nation, and the world, looked on in absolute horror,” Rosen said.
“Not only did the president of our United States not condemn the white supremacist violence that he has incited during his tenure, he implicitly gave them their marching orders,” Rosen said.
Trump did not denounce white supremacists when asked to so by Fox News moderator Chris Wallace during the presidential debate.
It clearly rattled senators, even Republican supporters.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only Black Republican senator, spoke in favor of the president at the GOP presidential nominating committee last month.
But Scott called on Trump on Wednesday to correct his statement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters that he, too, wanted to associate himself with the urging of Scott, that Trump denounce white supremacists.
“(Scott) said it was unacceptable not to condemn white supremacists,” McConnell said, “and so do I in the strongest possible way.”
As criticism continued throughout the day, Trump told reporters at the White House that he did not know who the Proud Boys were. The group is considered a white supremacist organization, as identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.
During the debate, Trump said the Proud Boys should “stand down and stand by.” Trump then said, “Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
The FBI and federal law enforcement have identified antifa, short for anti-fascists, as an ideology and movement, and not an organization.
When reporters asked Trump at the White House if he would denounce white supremacists, Trump said, “I always denounce them, any form, any form of that.”
“Joe Biden also has to say something about antifa,” Trump added.
Rosen, though, said this was another example of Trump prodding extremists. She said three years ago, when neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” Trump called an ensuing riot the result of a clash between “very fine people.”
Denouncing hate groups should not be a partisan issue, Rosen said, “but this is the norm for President Trump.”
“The president’s use of dog-whistles and charged language gives a voice to white supremacy and empowers vigilantes. It is inexcusable and indefensible,” she said.