WASHINGTON — The Senate’s only black Republican said Sunday that President Donald Trump should listen to African-Americans who have endured the country’s “painful history” in order to regain his moral authority after his handling of the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is among those in Trump’s party who have called on him to recalibrate his response to race and reject the support of white supremacists.
“What the president should do before he says something is to sit down and become better acquainted — have a personal connection to the painful history of racism and bigotry of this country,” Scott told CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
The Trump White House, facing the fallout over the president’s statement that both sides were to blame in the deadly Aug. 12 Charlottesville clashes and Friday’s departure of yet another top adviser in Steve Bannon, had no representatives speak on its behalf on the Sunday TV show circuit.
The president returned late Sunday to Washington, D.C., after a 17-day working vacation. He tweeted that he had been “working hard and watching some of the worst and most dishonest Fake News reporting I have ever seen!”
After the pro-white rally in Charlottesville and the bloody brawling that followed with counterprotesters, Trump had condemned bigotry and violence on many sides. Then, he explicitly denounced white supremacists, and ultimately returned to his original premise that both sides were at blame and said he believed “very fine people” were among either side.
Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. defended Trump.
“The only groups he identified by name as evil and causing what happened in Charlottesville were the Nazis, KKK and the white supremacists,” Falwell told ABC News’ “This Week.” “That’s what I thought was bold and truthful.”
Some graduates of Liberty University, where Falwell is president, have said they would return their diplomas in protest of his ongoing support for Trump, NPR reported.
Falwell said that after talking with friends who are Jewish and black, “I understand how some people could misunderstand his words.”
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, criticized by his Yale University colleagues and Jewish community members, in a statement Saturday stood by the president. “The president in no way, shape or form believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways,” Mnuchin said.
Pushback from GOP politicians has varied in degree.
While some directly condemned white nationalists without mentioning the president by name, others addressed him in demanding that he not equate white nationalists with those protesting their racism.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) questioned Trump’s competence.
Trump saw an exodus of top executives from his business advisory councils before he announced they were disbanding, and the Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder of Brooklyn megachurch Christian Cultural Center, became the first on the evangelical advisory board to sever ties.
“The way he vacillated on Charlottesville was problematic for me and brought me to my limits,” Bernard, a Suffolk County resident, told Newsday, citing “sacrifice and risk to my reputation and what I built.”
Asked what Trump can do to redeem himself, the black pastor said: “First, he’s got to listen. You can’t counsel someone without the freedom to disagree with them.”
Bernard said he had joined for Trump’s religious freedom and inner-city agendas, but saw no substantial advancement.
Bernard was among the approximately 125 faith leaders who joined Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in signing a letter condemning the White House’s “undeniable language of racism.”
Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who is black, said he was disappointed that “we didn’t have more on the faith council to resign, or at least speak out.”
Watts, who was GOP conference chair, told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd that he knows sitting Congress members who don’t share the ideology of white supremacists, but said, “If they’re silent, intentionally or unintentionally, they wear the cap saying, ‘We agree with that.’”
Also Sunday, Republican leaders weighed in on Bannon’s exit from the White House and return to the right-wing Breitbart News, where he has said he would wage war on behalf of Trump.
Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) said Bannon “had to go,” especially after published interviews in which he appeared to undermine the president’s statements on North Korea.
“Over the last few months, the White House has just not been functioning,” King told 970 AM radio host John Catsimatidis. “Unfortunately, Steve Bannon had become part of the problem . . . For him to go public and basically tell North Korea that we had no military option against them, that was undermining the president of the United States.”