President Donald Trump on Thursday said he discussed with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott both white supremacists and “some pretty bad dudes on the other side” of the violent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, echoing language that triggered a backlash against him last month.
Scott, the Senate’s lone black Republican, met privately with the president at the White House on Wednesday to talk about the administration’s relationship with the African-American community and race relations.
Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he had “a great talk” with Scott.
“I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that’s what I said,” the president recalled. “Now because of what’s happened since then with Antifa, when you look at really what’s happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying — and people have actually written — ‘Gee, Trump may have a point.’”
Trump and Scott met for roughly 40 minutes on Wednesday. A White House readout of their conversation mistakenly referred to the South Carolina Republican as “Tom Scott” and made no mention of Charlottesville.
Asked about Trump’s latest remarks, Scott told POLITICO, “He is who he has been.”
“I didn’t go into it to change who he was,” Scott said. “I wanted to inform and educate a different perspective. I think we accomplished that. To assume that immediately thereafter that he’s immediately going to have an epiphany is unrealistic.”
Trump initially condemned bigotry and racism but failed to single out by name the hate groups that had assembled in Charlottesville. Once he did explicitly condemn white supremacists, KKK members and neo-Nazis, he doubled and tripled down on his original position, which blamed “both sides” for the violence that left one counter-protester dead. He added that some “very fine people” were on both sides and critics said he appeared to express some sympathy for the white supremacists, who came to Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of a Confederate general and clashed with counter-protesters.
Scott, who said last month that the president’s “moral authority” was “compromised” by his response, told reporters on Wednesday that Trump “certainly tried to explain what he was trying to convey” but was also “receptive” to what the senator was saying.
“The real picture has nothing to do with who’s on the other side,” Scott said he told the president. “It has to do with the affirmation of hate groups who over three centuries of this country’s history had made it their mission to create upheaval in minority communities as a reason for existence.”
Trump “was ever-present during the entire meeting” and seemed to take his words seriously, Scott said. By Thursday, however, that didn’t appear to be the case.
“I said there’s some very bad people on the other side also,” Trump reiterated to reporters. “But we had a great conversation.”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.