By LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Several Republican senators on Wednesday criticized President Donald Trump for his comments on white supremacists and militias in the first presidential debate Tuesday night in which he failed to outright condemn racist groups when pressed.
If a Republican President is incapable of condemning white supremacists, then the party of Lincoln has expired.
— Gov. Tom Ridge (@RidgeGlobal) September 30, 2020
More than 14 hours after the comments were made, Trump has taken to Twitter to tout his performance but hasn’t followed up on controversial exchange.
A White House spokesperson said there was nothing to “clarify.”
Asked on Wednesday morning if he found the president’s comments concerning, GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — the only African American in the Senate — suggested the president misspoke and should “correct it.”
“I think he misspoke in response to Chris Wallace’s comment. He was asking Chris what he wanted to say. I think he misspoke. I think he should correct it,” Scott told Capitol Hill reporters.
“If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak,” he added.
At Tuesday’s debate, asked by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News whether he was “willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence,” the president at first said, “Sure, I’m willing to do that.”
When Wallace pressed him, the president asked, “What do you want to call them?”
“White supremacists and right-wing militias,” Wallace said, as former Vice President Joe Biden interjected the name “Proud Boys.”
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump then replied. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody has got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah — the only Republican who voted to convict Trump during his impeachment trial — said, “of course, of course” when asked on Capitol Hill Wednesday if the president should have outright condemned white supremacy.
“I’m not a political pundit and so I can’t tell you what impact that will have,” Romney said when asked about Trump’s comment. “I can say I watched the debate last night. It was not a Lincoln-Douglas debate, that’s for sure.”
Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota told reporters that Trump should have been “very clear.”
“He should have made it very clear that there’s no room for people on the far left or the far more far right. When it comes to either antifa or these white supremacist groups, should have been very clear,” Rounds said.
Outside Washington, former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, took to Twitter Wednesday to express his dismay.
“If a Republican President is incapable of condemning white supremacists, then the party of Lincoln has expired,” Ridge wrote. Trump often compares himself to President Abraham Lincoln.
But more than 14 hours after Trump made the comments, the White House has taken the stance that there is nothing to defend with aides appearing on television interviews Wednesday morning to defend the president.
One Fox News host asked if the White House or president want to clarify or explain what he meant by “Proud Boys, stand by and stand down” noting that the group is celebrating his response.
“I don’t think that there’s anything to clarify,” said White House deputy press secretary Alyssa Farah.
“He’s told them to stand back. This president has searched federal resources when violent crime warrants it in cities. He’s leading. He doesn’t need any sort of vigilantes. That’s never what we’ve called for. We’ve called for his Democrat mayors and Democrat governors to call up the resources we’re prepared to make available,” she continued.
Trump argued at the debate that “almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.”
But the standing by those comments mean Republicans on Capitol Hill dealing with their own races and unrest among their constituents having to publicly distance themselves from the president — something Trump does not enjoy.
Scott, a strong supporter of the president, played a prominent role at the Republican Convention last month in defending Trump, including on the issue of race. Nearly every time the president is asked about the African American community, he invokes Scott’s name — but Scott has broken with the president before.
The last time that the prominent senator publicly criticized something the president did was in June when Trump tweeted a video which included a supporter chanting “White Power.”
Scott live on CNN said the video was “offensive” & “indefensible” and he said that Trump “should not have retweeted and he should just take it down.”
Trump then took the video down without any tweet explaining or apology.
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