Top Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday pushed back against criticism that the president-elect has not done or said enough to distance himself from the alt-right, arguing that it was “truly unfair” to hold him responsible for the statements and actions of all his supporters.
In an interview with PBS NewsHour, Conway said the president-elect “never asked” for support from the so-called alt-right, a white nationalist movement with Neo-Nazi ideology.
“Assigning to him everything that’s ever been said or done by anyone who supports him is truly unfair,” Conway, a senior adviser on Trump’s transition team, told the NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff.
The interview came hours after Trump distanced himself from the alt-right in a meeting with the New York Times. “I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn,” Trump said.
Trump has been under increasing pressure since the election to take a firmer stand against the alt-right, which supported his campaign. Trump supporters drew headlines over the weekend by using Nazi salutes to celebrate his victory at an alt-right conference in Washington, D.C.
Conway claimed that Trump has “been very clear in disavowing” people and groups associated with the alt-right. But Trump refused to do so during the campaign, once famously saying during an interview on CNN that he would not disavow the support of David Duke, a former leader of the Klu Klux Klan.
At the New York Times meeting, Trump said he would not have named Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, as his White House chief strategist if he believed Bannon’s news site was a platform for the alt-right.
The claim stands in contrast to Bannon’s comment, in an interview with Mother Jones at the Republican National Convention in July, that Breitbart News is “the platform for the alt-right.”
In the PBS NewsHour interview, Conway also touched on several policy areas, saying Trump remained committed to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
After a meeting with President Obama last week, Trump said he was open to keeping parts of the law that ensure health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and extend coverage for people up to the age of 26.
Conway said Trump’s replacement plan would allow patients to buy health insurance across state lines, create health savings accounts for all Americans, and turn Medicaid, which covers the poor and uninsured, into a state-based block grant system.
Trump is also considering House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposal to partially privatize Medicare by turning it into a premium support system, Conway said. “He is open to hearing different positions and better ways of doing things,” Conway said, adding that Trump would “take a look at Speaker Ryan’s proposals.”
Republicans have long sought to cut spending on entitlement programs. After his re-election in 2004, President George W. Bush proposed privatizing Social Security. But the plan never gained traction on Capitol Hill, even though Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress.
Now Republicans control both chambers of Congress again. Conway argued that the balance of power would help Trump enact his agenda on issues from health care to immigration.
Conway also touched on climate change, in response to a Trump comment to the New York Times that he believed there was “some connectivity” between human activity and global warming. The statement represents a sharp shift for Trump, who has said in the past that climate change was a “hoax.”
At the Times meeting, Trump also appeared to suggest that he might soften his opposition to the Paris accord, the international deal aimed at lowering global carbon emissions. “He will take a look at it and he will make his decision,” Conway said.