In a heated exchange Monday during a White House press briefing, reporters asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to square President Donald Trump’s claim that “Democrats hate Jews” with his own history of defending hate. Sanders countered by trying to pass the buck to Democrats — going so far as comparing remarks made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) criticizing Israel to the hate of neo-Nazis.
Sanders dismissed claims that Trump had lauded “very fine people” at the 2017 white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, insisting that he has “consistently and repeatedly condemned hatred bigotry, [and] racism in all of its forms, whether it’s in America or anywhere else, and to say otherwise is simply untrue.”
When CNN’s April Ryan sought clarification as to when Trump actually condemned the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Sanders drew a direct line between the rally’s participants and Omar herself.
“The president has condemned neo-Nazis and called them by name,” she insisted, “which is what we are asking Democrats to do when they see the same type of hatred.”
In fact, Trump’s 2017 condemnation of neo-Nazis was sandwiched between two different remarks spreading the blame to include the anti-hate counterprotesters.
Trump’s initial remarks after the Charlottesville rally broadly condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” Later that day, after criticism over the “many sides” caveat, Trump walked back his original comment with a new statement that specifically called out “racism” and groups like “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups.”
But the very next day at a press conference, Trump added, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” His claim that “very fine people” participated in the rally undercuts the legitimacy of his prior condemnation.
Though she would not confirm what Trump said at the closed-door event, Sanders did say that “the president has had — and laid out clearly — his position on this matter.” In public comments to the press Friday morning, Trump claimed, “The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They’ve become an anti-Jewish party.”
Tellingly, however, Sanders refused to answer a yes-or-no question as to whether Trump actually believes “the Democrats hate Jewish people,” as he reportedly told Republican National Committee donors Friday night at Mar-a-Lago. “That’s a question you should ask the Democrats,” Sanders said multiple times.