The White House is showing no signs of backing down from President Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn White supremacy during Tuesday night’s presidential debate, despite pleas from some Republican allies to clarify his comments.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday would not give a declarative statement denouncing White supremacy, instead pointing to the President’s past comments and insisting that he did not misspeak during the debate or after.
“The President, specifically, verbatim, was asked (Wednesday): ‘White supremacy – do you denounce them?’ To which he responded, ‘I have always denounced any form of that,’ ” McEnany said. “Those are the facts.”
But McEnany excluded the fact that when Trump was asked if he condemned White supremacists on Wednesday, he appeared to equate violence by far-left groups with White supremacy.
Asked if he condemned White supremacists, Trump told reporters: “I’ve always denounced any form, any form of any of that. You have to denounce. But I also – Joe Biden has to say something about antifa.”
Trump similarly argued during the debate that the left wing was to blame for violence at ongoing demonstrations across the country.
The President also told the Proud Boys – a far-right group the Anti-Defamation League calls misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration – to “stand back and stand by.”
“Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump said. Biden could be heard twice saying, “Proud Boys.”
“Proud Boys – stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem,” Trump continued.
Although Trump has condemned the Ku Klux Klan and White supremacists in the past, he memorably said “both sides” were to blame for racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has frequently downplayed the threat from White supremacists during his term in office and has made stoking racial tensions a key part of his reelection strategy. In contrast, the Trump administration has portrayed antifa and anarchists as a top threat to the US equivalent to that of the KKK, recently making a campaign promise to prosecute both the KKK and antifa as terrorist organizations.
FBI Director Christopher Wray recently told Congress that “racially motivated violent extremism,” coming mostly from White supremacists, has made up the majority of domestic terrorist threats in the US.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Sens. Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, saying the President should clarify his debate remarks or that they believed he misspoke.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone Black Republican in the Senate, said Wednesday that he thought Trump had misspoken during the debate and “he should correct it.”
Asked directly if Trump misspoke, McEnany denied he had.
“When the President denounced White supremacy and said, ‘Sure.’ No, he did not misspeak,” McEnany said Thursday.
The backlash over the comments also didn’t change the President’s campaign trail rhetoric.
On Wednesday night, Trump resurfaced racist attacks on Somali refugees and Minnesota’s Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar at his rally in the state.
“(A) 700% increase refugees coming from the most dangerous places in the world including Yemen, Syria and your favorite country, Somalia. You love Somalia,” Trump said sarcastically. “Biden would turn Minnesota into a refugee camp.”
Omar “tells us how to run our country, can you believe it? How the hell did Minnesota elect her? What the hell is wrong with you people?” the President said.
The comments marked the second time in as many weeks that Trump has attacked Omar in her home state, using the phrase “our country” – falsely implying the US is not Omar’s country. Omar was born in Somalia but moved to the US when she was young and is a naturalized US citizen.
CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Jason Hoffman and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.