By BEN GITTLESON, JORDYN PHELPS, ELIZABETH THOMAS, and LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The White House claimed Thursday that President Donald Trump has denounced white supremacy “more than any president in modern history,” even as Republican lawmakers continued to call on him to more clearly condemn racist groups.
Trump has yet to offer that kind of condemnation since GOP senators weighed in after Tuesday’s presidential debate.
And while the White House insisted that he has been repeatedly clear on the subject both before and after, he did not stop to take the opportunity to speak with reporters as he departed the White House Thursday, as he typically does, including as recently as Wednesday.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, asked several times Thursday whether the president unambiguously denounces white supremacists, repeatedly avoided offering a simple declarative repudiation.
Pressed by Fox News’ John Roberts in the first exchange of Thursday’s White House briefing if she could “right now” denounce white supremacy on behalf of the president, McEnany instead argued the president has been “entirely consistent” and that his “record is unmistakable,” arguing he had done so when asked at the debate.
“If I could start off,” Roberts said, “I would like to ask you for a definitive and declarative statement without ambiguity or deflection. As the person who speaks for the president, does the president denounce white supremacism and groups that espouse it, in all their forms?”
“This was answered by the president himself. He said ‘sure’ three times,” Mcenany replied. “Yesterday, he was point blank asked, ‘Do you denounce white supremacy?’ and he said ‘I’ve always denounced any form of that,"” she said, reading from a transcript, reciting an exchange in which Trump did not use the term “white supremacy” himself.
There’s a well-established pattern of Trump showing a reluctance to disavow radical and racist groups and ideologies dating back to before he took office.
Asked again by Roberts if she would offer a simple declarative condemnation on behalf of the president to clear up lingering confusion left by his comments, McEnany claimed she had already done so.
“I just did. The president has denounced it repeatedly. The president was asked this. You are contriving a story line and narrative.”
After Roberts, other reporters continued to press for an unambiguous condemnation — McEnany stood by her position.
One reporter challenged McEnany, saying the president had a mixed record on the issue.
“His record is not mixed in the slightest. When you go back in history you can see that,” McEnany insisted, pointing out at that Trump’s Florida resort Mar-a-Lago was “the first Palm Beach club open to African-Americans and Jews” as proof.
She went on to insist the president has condemned the Proud Boys group — which reportedly has described itself as “Western chauvinist” but not white supremacist, though in fact he has yet to do so.
“The president did denounce them,” she argued. “He said ‘stand back’ and then just yesterday, when he was asked, he said specifically ‘stand down’ — a synonym with ‘stand back’ — and the president said ‘sure’ when asked by the moderator whether they should stand down.”
McEnany confirmed that the president has since spoken with Sen. Tim Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican, but did not elaborate on the conversation. Scott said Wednesday he thought the president misspoke in his “Proud Boys” comment and that he needed to “correct” his statement.
“If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak,” Scott said at the time.
As the White House maintains Trump said nothing wrong, pressure is growing from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The third-ranking Senate Republican, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, was asked on CNN Thursday if the president should come out and explicitly condemn racists groups.
“I think we should hear them from the president and from every American. I certainly condemn what we’ve been seeing in terms of white supremacy in terms of racism, anti Semitism, all of those things I stand with Senator McConnell and Senator Tim Scott, with the comments that they made,” he said.
GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana had a similar response to Barrasso when questioned on Capitol Hill Thursday whether the president should clarify his stance.
“I’ve already said that we should unequivocally condemn white supremacy. Just period. End of story. And I think that all Americans should,” Cassidy said.
Although several Senate Republicans have distanced themselves from the president’s unclear condemnation, legislation on the matter did not pass the chamber Thursday.
Senate Republicans blocked a unanimous vote on a resolution condemning white supremacy, which had passed the House unanimously.
They said that after nine months of the legislation languishing that the committees of jurisdiction needed to look at it further.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.