WASHINGTON — The Senate’s lone black Republican urged President Donald Trump on Wednesday to avoid inflammatory racial rhetoric such as his statement blaming “many sides” for the violence at a recent white nationalist protest in Virginia.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said he met for roughly a half hour with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House. He said the president tried to explain his comment, and why he said there were “very fine people” among the nationalists and neo-Nazis protesting the possible removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month.
“We had three or four centuries of rape, murder and death brought at the hands of the (Ku Klux Klan) and those who believe in a superior race,” Scott told reporters later at the Capitol. “I wanted to make sure we were clear on the delineation between who’s on which side in the history of the nation.”
Scott bluntly criticized Trump for assigning blame in a way that put white supremacist protesters on equal footing with counterdemonstrators who turned out for the Aug. 12 protests, sparked by Charlottesville officials’ decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
That remark, Scott said, compromised Trump’s moral authority as president.
On Wednesday, Trump told Scott that he just meant to convey “that there was an antagonist on the other side” — to which Scott replied, “The real picture has nothing to do with who is on the other side.”
Scott continued: “I shared my thoughts of the last three centuries of challenges from white supremacists, white nationalists, KKK, neo-Nazis, so there is no way to find an equilibrium when you have three centuries of history.”
The president said that he got the point, Scott said. Asked if the president can regain his moral authority, Scott responded, “That will take time.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and Scott had an “in depth” discussion about the Charlottesville comments, “but the focus was primarily on solutions moving forward.”
“That was what both people came to the meeting wanting to discuss,” Sanders said during a White House briefing. “What we can do to bring people together, not talk about divisions within the country.”
Scott said Trump also brought up Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who has accused Las Vegas police of using racially motivated excessive force against him.
Bennett sat on the bench during the national anthem before Sunday’s game at Green Bay, one of several NFL players protesting in support of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains unsigned after starting the protests last year to bring attention to police brutality against minorities.
“I believe he found it unsettling and challenging,” Scott said.
This came as several athletes, activists and celebrities signed a letter of support for Bennett.
“Michael Bennett has been sitting during the anthem precisely to raise these issues of racist injustice that are now an intimate part of his life. Now we stand with him,” the letter said.
It was signed by Kaepernick; tennis legend Martina Navratilova; academic Cornel West; John Carlos, a U.S. Olympic champion who famously raised his black-gloved fist during a 1968 medal ceremony, and other athletes and activists.