Republican lawmakers found President Donald Trump’s performance in the first presidential debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden lacking, especially when it came to his refusal to unequivocally condemn white supremacists and militia groups.
Debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked Trump on Tuesday night if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and tell them to “stand down” in cities such as Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, where heavily armed far-right extremists have shown up to anti-racism demonstrations as counterprotesters.
“I’m willing to do that,” Trump said.
But after prodding from both Wallace and Biden, who suggested he condemn a violent neo-fascist street gang known as the Proud Boys, the president appeared to be unwilling after all. Instead, he said the group should “stand back and stand by,” a comment that stirred widespread criticism from both sides of the aisle and caused celebration among the group’s members.
GOP senators on Wednesday gingerly urged Trump to rectify his statement.
“I think he misspoke. I think he should correct it,” Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican senator, told reporters on Capitol Hill.
“If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak,” he added.
Trump has yet to address his statement. The White House communications director told Fox News on Wednesday that she didn’t think there was anything to clarify and that the president “told them to stand back.”
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said he was “hoping for more clarity” from Trump about his views regarding extremists and militia groups.
“He should have made it very clear that there’s no room for people on the far-left or the far-right when it comes to either antifa or these white supremacist groups,” Rounds said.
“Of course, of course,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said when asked if the president should have condemned white supremacists during the debate.
Asked for his opinion on what was perhaps the ugliest debate in modern history, featuring near-constant interruptions and lying by Trump, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee observed that it “was not a Lincoln-Douglas debate, that’s for sure,” referring to the series of lengthy debates Abraham Lincoln took part in before becoming president.
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