President Donald Trump is back in the New York skyscraper that bears his name, as the furor over his reaction to race-fueled clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend shows few signs of dying down.
Protesters on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue tried to spoil Trump’s homecoming Monday night with signs bearing messages like “stop the hate, stop the lies” and chanting “shame, shame, shame” and “not my president!”
In a hastily arranged statement at the White House, Trump branded members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as “criminals and thugs.”
The groups are “repugnant to everything that we hold dear as Americans,” he said.
The move didn’t quiet the uproar, however. The leaders of four minority House caucus groups wrote a letter to Trump calling for the removal of several White House staff aides, including Steve Bannon.
The heads of the black, Hispanic, Asian and progressive caucuses are calling in the letter for the firings of the Trump administration officials in the wake of a violent, racist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The letter asserts that their continuing presence in the White House is emboldening a resurgent white supremacist movement in America.
This came a day after Anthony Scaramucci, who was fired as White House communications director after a less than two-week stay, called for Bannon’s ouster.
In his initial remarks on the violence Saturday, Trump did not single out the groups and instead bemoaned violence on “many sides.” Those remarks prompted stern criticism from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, who urged him to seize the moral authority of his office to condemn hate groups.
The president had indicated to advisers before his initial statement Saturday that he wanted to stress a need for law and order, which he did. He later expressed anger to those close to him about what he perceived as the media’s unfair assessment of his remarks, believing he had effectively denounced all forms of bigotry, according to outside advisers and White House officials.
Several of Trump’s senior advisers, including new chief of staff John Kelly, had urged him to make a more specific condemnation, warning that the negative story would not go away and that the rising tide of criticism from fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill could endanger his legislative agenda, according to two White House officials.
The outside advisers and officials demanded anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Tougher condemnations began Sunday night with Vice President Mike Pence, traveling in South America, who declared that “these dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life.”
On Monday, Trump had planned to interrupt his 17-day working vacation at his New Jersey golf club to travel to Washington for an announcement he hoped would showcase some tough talk on China’s trade practices.
But by the time he arrived at midmorning, it was clear that all other messages would be drowned out until he said more about Charlottesville.
Trump returned to a White House undergoing a major renovation. With the Oval Office unavailable, he worked from the Treaty Room as aides drafted his remarks.
He began by speaking about the economy. Then, emphasizing “as I said on Saturday,” Trump denounced the hate groups and called for unity.
“We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence,” he said.
Trump for the first time mentioned Heather Heyer by name as he paid tribute to the woman killed by the car driven by white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr., who has been charged with second-degree murder and other counts.
At the trade event later in the day, he was asked why it took two days for him to offer an explicit denunciation of the hate groups.
“They have been condemned,” Trump responded before offering a fresh criticism of some media as “fake news.”
He followed with a tweet declaring “the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied.”