House Speaker Paul Ryan during a CNN town hall meeting in Racine Monday said President Trump “messed up” when he placed blame on both sides for violence at a Virginia rally involving white supremacists that turned deadly.
But the Janesville Republican also said he would not support an effort to censure the president over his remarks, saying such an effort would turn into a “political food fight.”
During the town hall, several citizens and moderator Jake Tapper asked questions related to Charlottesville and racial division.
“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,” Ryan said of Trump’s news conference last week.
But Ryan, R-Janesville, said he was pleased with comments Trump made during an address regarding the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan immediately before the town hall, in which Trump condemned prejudice and bigotry and called for Americans to unite.
“I’m pleased with the things he just said tonight to add clarity to the confusion that I think he gave us on Tuesday,” Ryan said.
Ryan also responded to Trump’s comment that there were “fine people” demonstrating with the white supremacists. One of the men who marched with the white supremacists allegedly slammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman.
“You’re not a good person if you’re there, let’s make this so very clear,” Ryan said.
Rabbi Dena Feingold, the sister of former Dem. U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, asked Ryan if he supported a move to censure Trump.
Ryan said pursuing that course would be counterproductive and would be “a big mistake for this country”.
“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?” Ryan said.
Dem U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan knocked the CNN town hall leading up to Monday’s event because the network selected who was allowed to attend and the questions that would be asked. He offered running commentary on the event through his Twitter feed and challenged Ryan to join in Dems in the push to censure Trump if the speaker really believed the president was wrong in his response to Charlottesville.
“FACT: Censuring @realDonaldTrump isn’t political food fight, it’s standing up for what’s right & standing against what’s wrong #RyanTownHall,” Pocan, D-Town of Vermont, tweeted.
Ryan praised Trump’s Afghanistan strategy announced in an address preceding the town hall, which included focusing on a conditions-based approach to fighting the war as opposed to a timetable-based approach. Ryan also praised Trump for laying out in his address a new doctrine of “principled realism” in addressing national security.
“I think it’s important when it comes to our blood and our treasure and our soldiers and our safety, that we actually have a comprehensive doctrine that we apply,” Ryan said.