8 min read

Wake Up To Politics - August 16, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Wednesday, August 16, 2017. 447 days until Election Day 2018. 1,175 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Sorry for the late send, I'm still sleeping in while I can (until school starts)...

Top Story: Trump Blames "Both Sides" for Charlottesville Violence

Here are the lines you need to know about from President Trump's press conference on Tuesday, from the lobby of Trump Tower:

  • On why he didn't speak as forcefully in his first statement on Saturday "I didn’t wait long. I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement...So, I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement...When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts."
  • On whether the "Unite the Right" protesters were terrorists "Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and his country. And that is — you can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want."
  • On White House chief strategist Steve Bannon "I like Mr. Bannon. He’s a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late, you know that...He’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that...But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon, but he's a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly."
  • On Sen. John McCain's statement linking the protests to the "alt-right" "Senator McCain, you mean the one who voted against Obamacare? Who is — you mean Senator McCain who voted against us getting good health care?...But when you say the “alt- right,” define “alt-right” to me."
  • On the counter-protestors "OK, what about the alt-left that came charging them? Excuse me. What about the alt-left that came charging at the — as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? Let me ask you this. What about the fact they came charging — that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do."
  • On blaming both sides "And you have — you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group — you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent...I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either...But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides...But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know — I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit."
  • On protestors who were not neo-Nazis "But not all of [those protesting the Lee statue's removal] were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee...But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly."
  • On campaigns to take down statues of Confederate figures "So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?"

Virtually no prominent Republicans are defending Trump's comments, and many have criticized them — some citing the President's name, and some stopping short of doing so:

  • Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), 2008 Republican presidential nominee "There's no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry. The President of the United States should say so"
  • Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) "@POTUS just doesn't get it. There is no moral equivalence between manifestations for or against #whitesupermacy. He's got to stop."
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority Leader "We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedom. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head.”
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), 2016 presidential candidate "The organizers of events which inspired & led to #charlottesvilleterroristattack are 100% to blame for a number of reasons...Mr. President,you can't allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain. The #WhiteSupremacy groups will see being assigned only 50% of blame as a win.We can not allow this old evil to be resurrected"
  • Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee "White supremacy, bigotry and racism have absolutely no place in our society, and no one — especially the President of the United States — should ever tolerate it. We must all come together as a country and denounce this hatred to the fullest extent."
  • Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee "This is not a time to equivocate, this is not a time to let people try and interpret for their own what happened in Charlottesville, we must not allow pastel statements...The President must name that evil, and he can't try any form of moral equivalency in this issue."
  • Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) "Mr. President, there is only one side: AGAINST white supremacists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites & the KKK. They have no place in America or GOP."
  • Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee "I don't understand what's so hard about this. White supremacists and Neo-Nazis are evil and shouldn't be defended."
  • Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee "The President needs to clearly and categorically reject white supremacists. No excuses. No ambiguity."
  • Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) "POTUS deflected from the fact that a young woman was killed & others were injured by a bigoted follower of the white supremacist movement."
  • Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), 2016 presidential candidate "There is no moral equivalency to Nazi sympathizers. There can be no room in America — or the Republican Party — for racism, anti-Semitism, hate or white nationalism. Period."
  • Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Speaker of the House "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."
  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Majority Leader "Saturday's violence and tragic loss of life was a direct consequence of the hateful rhetoric & action from white supremacists demonstrating."

Among the many congressional Democrats who condemned Trump's remarks, some even went so far as to call for the President's removal:

  • Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) "POTUS is showing signs of erratic behavior and mental instability that place the country in grave danger. Time to invoke the 25th Amendment."
  • Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) "25th Amendment? What do you think? #EnoughIsEnough"
  • Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) "My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander-in-chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history.”

And Trump's press conference sparked criticism from figures and media outlets outside of the political spectrum as well:

  • Gen. Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army "The Army doesn't tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It's against our Values and everything we've stood for since 1775."
  • Gen. Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps "No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act."
  • The Washington Post editorial board "The nation can only weep."
  • The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board "Donald Trump, America's bigot in chief"

However, Trump did get some backing — from the white nationalist organizers of the Charlottesville protests:

  • David Duke "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa"
  • Richard Spencer "Trump's statement was fair and down to earth. #Charlottesville could have been peaceful, if police did its job...I'm proud of him for speaking the truth."

Trump's press conference was entirely unplanned: he was supposed to deliver a statement on infrastructure and then let Cabinet secretaries answer questions on the topic.

  • A White House official told NBC that Trump "went rogue," and that staffers were stunned by his comments.
  • The White House distributed talking points to congressional Republicans, obtained by a number of news outlets. "The President was entirely correct — both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility," they were told to say. The talking points were almost universally ignored.
  • The New York Times reported that NEC chairman Gary Cohn was "disgusted" and "upset" by the President's remarks, but has no plans to exit the Administration.
  • CNN reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly, who was photographed looking upset during the press conference, is "frustrated" with how the Trump Tower event went. "This was all him — this wasn't our plan," a White House official told the network.
  • Here's how the Associated Press described the reactions by White House staffers on the scene: "As Trump talked, his aides on the sidelines in the lobby stood in silence. Chief of staff John Kelly crossed his arms and stared down at his shoes, barely glancing at the president. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders looked around the room trying to make eye contact with other senior aides. One young staffer stood with her mouth agape."
  • What does this mean for Steve Bannon? According to AP, the strategist has been telling allies "that he believed his job was safe," after speaking to Kelly. However, voices in and out of the White House are calling for his ouster, and Trump wouldn't shoot them down definitively in his Tuesday remarks. Bloomberg reported that Bannon was "proud of the president's performance."
  • And where are Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump? On vacation in Vermont, returning on Thursday.

The Rundown

  • Hicks Tapped for Communications Post The White House announced on Tuesday that longtime Trump aide Hope Hicks will begin serving as White House Communications Director on a temporary basis, as the search to replace the short-tenured Anthony Scaramucci continues. Hicks, 28, has served as Director of Strategic Communications since Trump took office; she is one of few officials who have been with Trump since Day One of his campaign. A former Trump Organization spokeswoman, she is close with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and is highly trusted by the President.
  • Moore, Strange Advance to Alabama Senate Runoff Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and interim Sen. Luther Strange will advance to a September runoff in the GOP primary to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Senate seat. Strange's endorsements from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were not enough to produce a first-place showing: he received 32.8% of the vote to Moore's 38.9%. Rep. Mo Brooks took 19.7% of the vote. Former U.S. Attorney Doug Moore won the Democratic nod for the seat, and will face the runoff winner.

The President's Schedule

President Trump has no public events on his schedule today, as his "working vacation" continues. He is set to return to his Bedminster, New Jersey property, departing Trump Tower at 2pm and arriving at 2:45pm. At 4pm, he will sign the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act into law.

Editor's Note

I just want to quickly thank all of those who have donated to Wake Up To Politics in the past two days. The response to my request was very humbling, and I more than reached my goal to ensure that the newsletter can continue to be sent for years to come. To that end, I have removed the Donate button until a need emerges once again. I really appreciate the generosity of all who donated!