WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday night that he had “strongly condemned the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists and the KKK” following the deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, and blamed the news media for what he said was inaccurate coverage of his remarks.
“I openly called for unity, healing and love,” he told a cheering crowd of supporters at a campaign-style rally in Phoenix also attended by Vice President Mike Pence.
In a more than hourlong speech, Trump reread the multiple statements he issued after the racially charged clashes on Aug. 12 as those at the Phoenix Convention Center booed news reporters and photographers.
Following the Charlottesville violence on Aug. 12, the president had initially condemned hatred, bigotry and violence on “many sides.”
In subsequent remarks he explicitly disavowed white supremacists, but then returned to his original premise that blame should be pinned on both sides — white nationalists and counterprotesters — and said “very fine people” were among both groups.
“Can it be any better than that? In all fairness,” he asked the rally-goers of his remarks on the Charlottesville unrest.
He mocked what he suggested was whining from the news media: “ ‘It should have been sooner! He’s a racist!’”
Trump faced bipartisan criticism for his handling of the Charlottesville conflict, including from politicians pasts and present in his party.
Arizona’s Republican U.S. senators John McCain and Jeff Flake denounced Trump for the remarks and other positions the president has taken. Trump criticized them both Tuesday, though not by name, saying his advisers had implored him not to do so.
Trump did not announce a pardon of former Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, although he hinted it may be forthcoming.
“So was Sheriff Joe convicted of doing his job?” the president asked the crowd. “ . . . I think he’s going to be just fine, OK? But, but I won’t do it tonight.”
Arpaio was convicted in July of misdemeanor contempt of court for disobeying a federal judge’s order to stop his immigration patrols targeting Latinos.
Earlier Tuesday, the president greeted border patrol agents and U.S. Marines in Yuma, Arizona and made his case for funding to construct a wall along the Mexican border.
The administration is preparing for a potential legislative fight over funding for a border wall in a forthcoming spending bill.
“If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” the president said in Phoenix.
A White House official on Tuesday highlighted U.S. Border Patrol statistics showing 126,472 people were apprehended trying to enter the United States without documentation between Jan. 1 and July 31 — a 46 percent increase from the same period in 2016.
The administration has requested $1.6 billion for new and replacement border wall in fiscal year 2018.
“The president’s message is: We need a strong border and we need strong interior enforcement,” Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told reporters. “What he’s done so far has worked, so we need the funding to make it permanent. We need funding to build a wall.”
Several hundred Trump supporters waited in the sweltering sun for the rally, although protesters also turned out for the event, according to local news coverage.
Outside the Phoenix Convention Center after the speech, police used tear gas to disperse protesters, some of whom launched projectiles at officers.
In his speech, Trump also ticked through his accomplishments, including his war on gangs.
“We’re liberating towns out on Long Island,” Trump said of the fight against the MS-13 street gang.