House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Monday night criticized President Donald Trump for failing last week to fully condemn the white nationalists at a rally in Charlottesville, acknowledging that the President “messed up.”
During a televised town hall on CNN, Ryan was asked about Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville. The speaker applauded Trump’s second stab at responding to the attack, describing it as “pitch perfect.” But he criticized Trump for later faltering at a press conference.
“Then, the next day, I think it was in New York on an infrastructure press conference, in answer to a question, I think he made comments that were much more morally ambiguous, much more confusing,” Ryan said. “And I do think he could have done better. I think he needed to do better.”
The speaker then praised Trump for his tweet applauding the counterprotesters in Boston who spoke out against a “free speech” rally over the weekend and said that the President made progress in his Monday night speech on Afghanistan.
“The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget, that a wound inflicted upon a single member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all,” Trump said Monday night. “When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry and no tolerance for hate.”
Ryan said that was “exactly what a president needs to say and what we needed to hear.”
“So I do believe that he messed up in his comments on Tuesday, when it – it – it sounded like a moral equivocation, or at the very least moral ambiguity, when we need extreme moral clarity,” he added.
CNN moderator Jake Tapper then pointed out that Trump said that there were “very fine people” at the rally in Charlottesville, arguing that it was “morally wrong,” not “ambiguous” for Trump to say that. Ryan agreed.
“You’re not a good person if you’re there. That’s just so very clear. So I totally agree with that,” Ryan said. “It was not only morally ambiguous, it was – it was equivocating. And that was wrong. That’s why I think it was very, very important that he – that he – he has since then cleared that up. And I think it was important that he did that tonight.”
Though Ryan criticized Trump’s response to Charlottesville, he stopped short of supporting a censure of the President, arguing that it would become a “partisan hack-fest.”