WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tim Scott on Wednesday cast doubts about President Donald Trump's moral authority in light of his responses to the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
In an interview with The Post and Courier, the South Carolina Republican said history has shown the nation typically sees the president as a part of the nation's moral high ground. Because of that, voters typically give deference to the objectives of the administration, he said.
But he added that Trump's answers equalizing the roles of the supremacist groups and the protesters have left the president weakened on the moral leadership front.
"There is no doubt the last couple of days complicates this administration's moral authority," Scott said after Trump's initial response to the Charlottesville violence was to denounce “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
Scott said the issue is simple: "We do not support in any way, shape or form any group that thinks they are superior, or any folks who are looking to divide this nation into smaller groups."
The Senate's only black Republican, Scott further pointed out that Trump's rhetoric has not been clear enough on the denouncement of hate groups. That includes trying to equate protesters "with the extreme elements who are responsible for the death of an American citizen."
Scott, who has increasingly used his status to call for unity and healing in a nation divided by race, has tweeted frequently since the Charlottesville march last weekend — the largest mass demonstration of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis in recent history. He criticized Trump's "ambiguity" in not calling out hate groups by name and also the president's suggestion that "all sides" are to blame for the violence that resulted in the death of a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer. Two state troopers also died in a helicopter crash.
This is the first time, however, that Scott has articulated his concern about the administration's status as the figurehead of the nation's morality.
By drawing a "moral equivalency" between the white supremacists and counter-protesters, Scott said, "I think you are either missing four centuries of history in this nation or you are trying to make something what it’s not."
Scott also expressed frustration that Trump's continued self-sabotaging is comprising the GOP's ability to get things done on health care, the tax code and financial regulations. Trump's missteps, he said, have put Republicans in a "precarious position" of having to critique an administration that lawmakers would like to be able to support.
Democrats say Republicans who oppose Trump's rhetoric should disassociate themselves from him entirely. On Wednesday, Scott defended his intention to continue to work with the administration if and when he could.
He will sit next to Trump at meetings, as he did at a recent White House gathering of GOP senators to discuss health care. He will accompany Trump on a tour of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, as he did during Black History Month earlier this year.
"This administration will come and go, and I will still be totally committed to conservative principles," Scott said. "When the administration speaks in a way that seems to cause confusion in ways I vehemently disagree, I’m going to speak out against the words of the administration. The fact of the matter is, I don’t work for the administration, I work for the American people, and that requires me to get things done."
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has also had to defend his willingness to work with the Trump administration, despite his routine critiques of his actions.
Separately on Wednesday, Graham released a statement criticizing the president for creating a "moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally, and people like Ms. Heyer."
"I, along with many others, do not endorse this moral equivalency," Graham said.