Lawmakers Respond To Trump's Charlottesville Comments & They're Not Holding Back
All eyes were on Virginia and Washington, D.C. this weekend, as white nationalists and counterprotesters alike gathered for demonstrations marking the one-year anniversary of last year's fatal Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Many elected officials have condemned the neo-Nazis and white nationalists behind the weekend's demonstrations, though not every politician has followed suit. President Trump's Charlottesville anniversary comments sparked responses from other lawmakers, for example, and many critics contended that the president's condemnation did not go far enough.
"The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation," Trump tweeted on Saturday. "I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!"
Some felt that the president's tweet was too neutral, or that his comments attempted to appease "both sides." Specifically, some felt that his comments were too reminiscent of his initial response to last year's rally, when Trump explicitly said that "there is blame on both sides."
Given that one woman, Heather Heyer, was killed at last year's demonstration, after a man drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, many felt that Trump should have more firmly opposed the Unite the Right Rally, as well as those who support it. Several lawmakers used rally's anniversary as an opportunity to discuss what they believe Trump is, or isn't, doing to fight against white supremacy.
"Not Gone Far Enough"
"He has not gone far enough," Rep. Elijah Cummings said on ABC of Trump's Charlottesville response. "I think it's a low bar for the president of the United States to simply say he's against racism. He's got to do better than that. He's got to address the people who are espousing racist type comments and doing racist type acts."
Sen. Kaine offered a particularly strong rebuke of Trump during an interview with CBS News. According to the senator, when it came to Charlottesville, Trump "could not distinguish who was on the right side and who was on the wrong side in a white supremacist neo-Nazi rally," and Kaine called it "infuriating."
"Virginians really saw that for what it was," Kaine said. "Because a state that's been scarred like we have, with the divisions of racism and hatred and slavery in the past, when we have a president who can't call it out, it was outrageous. The people who came to Charlottesville to demonstrate their hatred, they, I'm sure, had those emotions before there was a President Trump, but he's stoking it."
"This Wasn't Both Sides"
"He should have done it a year ago," former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday.
"And I talked to the president that afternoon," McAuliffe continued, "Explained to him the situation, what had been going on, what these people had been doing in the city of Charlottesville."
He expressed shock at the president's response:
And when he went on and gave his statement that it was both sides' fault, I gotta tell you, it was shocking to me. It wasn't both sides. You had one side of neo-Nazis wearing Adolf Hitler T-shirts, the white supremacists screaming obscenities at the African-American community, walking down the streets. They came armed. This wasn't both sides.
There's Only One Side
"One year after Charlottesville, as white supremacists gather in D.C, we still have a President who launches racist attacks on people of color and uses race to divide," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted on Sunday. "It’s wrong and dangerous. There is only one side: equality. It’s on us to stand up, be counted and denounce hate."
Leaders Must Not Equivocate
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is currently running for Senate in Utah, issued a statement on the eve of the Unite the Right rally's anniversary. Though Romney did not directly name Trump, he appeared to allude to him.
"We must insist that those we elect as our leaders respect and embrace Americans of every race, sexual orientation, gender, and national origin," Romney wrote. "In this country, it must be electorally disqualifying to equivocate on racism."
"He's Dividing Us"
"I wish that the president of the United States would be the kind of person — clearly, that he's not — that would bring us together," Rep. Gregory Meeks told CNN. "He's dividing us. I think most of America wants us to be together, and it's just these few deplorable individuals who are neo-Nazis, and I think [the] president and others need to speak up."
This Isn't Leadership
One senator took to Twitter to respond to Trump. "@realdonaldtrump it’s shameful that you haven’t more vocally condemned today’s despicable display of hate happening right in front of the White House," Sen. Jeff Merkley wrote, tagging Trump in a post. "Making equivocating statements on bigotry is not leadership."
Not every elected official spoke about Trump and Charlottesville over the weekend, but those who did were very direct about how they felt. While tweets and soundbites are not going to end racism, it's important to keep fighting racism and white supremacy at every opportunity. One way to make sure that remains a priority is to keep discussing those topics in public forums.