Trump Lashes Out At Critics Of His Response To Violence In Charlottesville

Aug 17, 2017
Originally published on August 17, 2017 6:06 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Trump administration says it's monitoring the unfolding situation in Barcelona following today's terror attack there. We're going to turn now to NPR's Geoff Bennett, who covers the White House. And Geoff, what's the U.S. response to the terror attack?

GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Well, the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, says he's keeping the president updated. And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered a statement earlier with this warning for would-be terrorists.

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REX TILLERSON: Terrorist around the world should know the United States and our allies are resolved to find you and bring you to justice.

BENNETT: And President Trump posted a tweet vowing to do whatever is necessary to help in the aftermath. But in a separate message, Robert, he encouraged people to, as he put it, study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. And in doing so, the president is reviving a myth he promoted on the campaign trail. And the story goes that this Army general stopped Muslim attacks in the Philippines by shooting them with bullets dipped in pig's blood. That story has circulated online, but historians who have looked at it say it's a hoax.

SIEGEL: And that wasn't the only controversial tweet today, either.

BENNETT: Right.

SIEGEL: Before news of the Barcelona attack, President Trump appeared defiant in tweets this morning about his response to the Charlottesville protests, defending what he called beautiful Confederate statues.

BENNETT: That's right. He said it was sad that the history and culture of the United States is being ripped apart, as he put it, by the removal of these statues and monuments - Confederate statues and monuments, to be clear. But you know, I think the president's pivot to statues may put him on safer ground politically than his previous statement that both sides share the blame for what happened in Charlottesville. And as evidence of that, there's a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that finds that some 62 percent of Americans think Confederate statues should remain as historical symbols.

But here again, the president is suggesting that the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville was fundamentally about a statue when it was really a pretext for a rally aimed at expressing white supremacist views with some of those in attendance, by the way, clearly seen on video shouting anti-Semitic slogans and raising Nazi salutes.

SIEGEL: An interesting political development in response to all this today - we've heard Republicans distance themselves from Trump's comments about Charlottesville but very, very cautiously - today, one senator not so cautiously.

BENNETT: Yeah, a few senators, actually. The critiques are far more pointed. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the GOP's only black senator, said the president's moral authority is compromised. Ted Cruz had some choice words. And take a listen to what Bob Corker said today to reporters in his home state of Tennessee.

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BOB CORKER: The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. And we need for him to be successful. Our nation needs for him to be successful.

BENNETT: And Corker also said the president has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation. I asked the White House for a response to all of this - no word back yet.

SIEGEL: Pretty tough word - not demonstrated the stability to do that. That's - fighting words from Senator Corker.

BENNETT: That's right.

SIEGEL: That's Geoff Bennett at the White House. Thanks.

BENNETT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.