House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told constituents in a televised town hall from Racine, Wis., Monday night that he’s afraid of people getting “numbed” to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis that rallied in Charlottesville, Va., and other places in the country.
Ryan praised President Trump for showing “moral clarity” in prepared remarks about Charlottesville, where counter-protesters were run over with a car driven by a suspect photographed earlier in the day rallying with neo-Nazis. Heather Heyer of Charlottesville was killed; Ryan called her slaying “an act of domestic terrorism.”
Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks a week ago, in which he said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville and both sides were to blame for violence, were called “much more morally ambiguous, much more confusing” by Ryan during the CNN event.
“I do think he could have done better. I think he needed to do better,” Ryan added. “…I do believe that he messed up in his comments on Tuesday, when it sounded like a moral equivocation, or at the very least moral ambiguity, when we need extreme moral clarity.”
“We’ve got to keep our moral outrage, and we all have to stand up and speak out against this kind of bigotry so that it is never normalized, so that we don’t give these people oxygen that they’re looking for. They are the fringe. Let’s keep them at the fringe.”
Ryan emphasized “there were not any very fine people in that rally.”
“I have a hard time believing, if you’re standing in a crowd to protest something and you see, you know, all these anti-Semitic slogans, and the ‘Heil, Hitlers’ and swastikas, that you’re good with that and you’re a good person,” he said. “You’re not a good person if you’re there. That’s just so very clear. So I totally agree with that. And that’s why I think, yeah, it’s — it was — it was not only morally ambiguous, it was equivocating. And that was wrong. That’s why I think it was very, very important that he has since then cleared that up. And I think it was important that he did that tonight.”
“I don’t think any of us have done enough. I think we all have a lot more to do. I think we all got a lot more to do in this area, and I think we have a lot more to do to make sure that these guys don’t get normalized.”
Last week, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) introduced a resolution censuring Trump “for his inadequate response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, his failure to immediately and specifically name and condemn the white supremacist groups responsible for actions of domestic terrorism, for re-asserting that ‘both sides’ were to blame and excusing the violent behavior of participants in the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, and for employing people with ties to white supremacist movements in the White House, such as Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.”
The resolution also urges Trump “to fire any and all White House advisors who have urged him to cater to the alt-Right movement in the United States.”
Ryan told the town hall that he will not support the resolution. “I think that would be so counterproductive. If we descend this issue into some partisan hack-fest, into some bickering against each other, and demean it down to some political food fight, what good does that do to unify this country?” he said. “We want to unify this country against this kind of hatred and this kind of bigotry. So I think that would be the absolutely worst thing we should do.”
“I think the Internet has given these people, who are fringe, oxygen. And I think every single one of us have more to do to make sure that we deny them their oxygen and this fuel,” he said of white supremacists. “And so whether there are laws that need to be passed to improve this, that may be the case. But things that disunite us, the things that divide us, so that we can make sure that we unify, this — this is beyond a bill in Congress, a party. It’s beyond politics. This is our society. This is our culture. This is our values.”
Ryan was asked by a man whose father was killed by known white supremacist Wade Page at the Oak Creek Sikh temple in 2012 what is being done to stem the growth of far-right extremism.
The House speaker replied that “we’ve got to do a better job of making sure that criminals don’t get guns or that people who are suspected of terrorism, like domestic terrorism, don’t get guns.”