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Matt Shuham

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) lobbed a few barbs at the Trump administration on Thursday, saying the White House needed “radical changes.” But the senator stopped short of offering any specific criticisms or personnel changes.

The comments fit a mold of vague criticism from the conservative Republican, who in June 2016 insisted that Trump “is going to have to change.” In May, Corker scolded a White House he said was in a “downward spiral.” Still, Corker shows no sign of abandoning Trump, nor the White House’s policy goals.

“I do think there need to be some radical changes” at the White House, he told reporters Thursday after addressing the Rotary Club of Chattanooga. Chloé Morrison of Nooga.com posted video of the scrum. “The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

“He also, recently, has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation,” Corker added.

He even made a veiled criticism of Trump’s response to the white supremacist protesters who occupied Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. Trump directly compared them to the counter-protesters demonstrating against racism.

“Helping inspire divisions because it generates support from your political base is not a formula for causing our nation to advance, our nation to overcome the many issues we have to deal with right now,” Corker said. “Anything that’s said to make them feel that their standing in our nation is enhanced is repugnant,” he added later, referring to white supremacist groups. “So I don’t know what else I can say.”

But Corker stopped short of offering specific criticism.

Asked if he was worried voters might misunderstand his cooperation with the Trump administration as “blind support of things that seem kind of crazy,” Corker hedged back and forth, eventually echoing Trump’s own campaign slogan. “Our role is to make our nation great, to overcome these issues,” he said, not specifying which issues he meant.

He added: “I will say, we’re at a point where there needs to be radical changes that take place at the White House itself. It has to happen.”

Asked specifically what changes he wanted, Corker refused to answer.

“On the radical change in the White House, do you mean personnel — that maybe they need to reshape the White House, or the President needs to change, or the existing organization?” a reporter asked.

“There just needs to be a different approach,” Corker said.

“Does Steve Bannon need to go?” the reporter pressed.

“I don’t get into personalities,” Corker said. “I don’t get into personalities.”

He also declined to comment on Rep. Steve Cohen’s (D-TN) introduction of articles of impeachment against President Trump hours earlier.

Corker did distinguish himself from Trump on one notable issue. Though Trump on Thursday lamented that “beautiful” confederate monuments and statues were being taken down in many cities across the country, Corker indicated his support of removing a bust of Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, a Confederate veteran and a prominent and early member of the Ku Klux Klan, from the Tennessee Capitol.

“We want to keep our history, we don’t want to wash away our history, but let’s put it in a museum,” Corker said.

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A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee near the entrance of the Duke University chapel was vandalized overnight Wednesday, the university confirmed Thursday morning.

“Each of us deserves a voice in determining how to address the questions raised by the statues of Robert E. Lee and others, and confront the darker moments in our nation’s history,” university president Vincent E. Price said in a statement acknowledging the vandalism. “For an individual or group of individuals to take matters into their own hands and vandalize a house of worship undermines the right, protected in our Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, of every Duke student and employee to participate fully in university life.”

The Herald-Sun | Bernard ThomasA Duke University police officer stand guard by the defaced Robert E. Lee statue at the Duke Chapel , Thursday, August 17 2017, in Durham North Carolina
The defaced Gen. Robert E. Lee statue, center, stands at the Duke Chapel on Thursday, Aug. 17 2017, in Durham, N.C. (Bernard Thomas/The Herald-Sun via AP)

The vandalism follows a wave of removed Confederate statues and monuments — both at the behest of local governments, and as a result of criminal property damage — following a white supremacist rally over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia ostensibly planned to protest the removal of a statue of Lee from a park.

White supremacist groups organized the rally — despite President Donald Trump’s claim that “very fine people” joined in for the statue’s sake — and one counter-protester was left dead on Saturday after a man who had been photographed with the white supremacist group American Vanguard allegedly rammed his car into a crowd.

Protesters on Monday brought down a Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina. On Tuesday night, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama ordered a Confederate monument in his city to be covered in plywood walls — though he was later sued in his official capacity by Alabama’s attorney general for allegedly violating a new law against removing or altering certain monuments on public land.

Further sanctioned monument removals have taken place across the country.

After initially saying Tuesday that the status of Confederate monuments should be left to the governments with jurisdiction over them, Trump came out strongly Thursday morning on behalf of the Charlottesville white supremacist protesters’ demands, saying he was “[s]ad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments” and that “the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

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Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said Thursday that removing statues and monuments for Confederate veterans and political figures was comparable — and would lead to — removing New York City’s memorial for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

In an interview with WGAN, LePage was asked about the comparison President Donald Trump made Tuesday between the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, and the counter-protesters who demonstrated against them.

The rally was ostensibly planned to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park, though the white supremacist groups in attendance chanted “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and Soil!” recalling Nazi rhetoric. They carried swastikas and Confederate flags. One counter-protester was killed when a man who had protested with white supremacists allegedly rammed his car into a crowd.

“What they’re standing for is equally as bad,” LePage said, referring to the counter-protesters. “They’re trying to erase history.”

“They should study their history,” he added later. “They don’t even know the history of this country and they’re trying to take monuments down. Listen, whether we like it or not, this is what our history is.”

“To me, it’s just like going to New York City right now and taking down the monument of those who perished in 9/11,” he said. “It will come to that.”

It was an odd parallel. LePage was essentially comparing the Confederate States of America to 9/11 victims, and the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks to the Union Army.

“I condemn both sides,” LePage separately in the interview. “I think they’re disgusting — both sides.”

“I don’t think he came off strong enough on either one of them,” LePage said at one point, referring to Trump’s remarks Tuesday, in which the President said not everyone who attended the rally on the white supremacists’ side was worthy of condemnation.

LePage — who admitted he hadn’t known about the protest for days because “I don’t watch TV and I don’t read newspapers, because frankly, I believe newspapers are nothing more than pencil terrorists” — seemed to confuse the stated goal of the so-called “antifa” groups in attendance demonstrating against the white supremacists.

The label is short for “anti-fascist,” and represents individuals who disrupt white supremacist gatherings, sometimes with violence. LePage seemed to think the group’s goal was explicitly to tear down Confederate statues, even though they were not actively involved in the Charlottesville City Council’s vote to remove the statue of Lee.

WGAN co-host Ken Altshuler tried one more time near the end of the interview: “The issue that Donald Trump had was the implication that there is a moral equivalence between antifa and the KKK,” he said. “Would you agree, though that what the KKK stands for is at least morally — I mean, if you have to judge morality, what they stand for is less desirous— “

“I answered that,” LePage said. “I think they’re both morally wrong. I condemn both organizations. I think there’s no room for either of these organizations in the United States of America.”

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President Donald Trump argued against the removal of Confederate statues and monuments on Thursday, just days after a woman died in Charlottesville, Virginia amid a violent white supremacist rally. The protest was organized ostensibly against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park.

The White House said Trump’s tweets “speak for themselves,” according to a pool report.

Trump’s endorsement of Confederate monuments came after his failure to firmly condemn the white supremacists who organized the rally.

Though he did disavow the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists by name on Monday, on Tuesday he returned to directly comparing the white supremacist protesters and the counter-protesters who demonstrated against them.

“I have condemned many different groups,” he said. “But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.”

“I think there’s blame on both sides,” he said, referring to white supremacists and counter-protesters.

Many in Trump’s administration were reportedly dismayed at his seeming endorsement of the extreme far-right — the Charlottesville protests were organized by explicitly white supremacist groups, regardless of anyone “also there” on behalf of the statue — though none resigned in response to his remarks.

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who formerly ran the far-right news outlet Breitbart News, was reportedly “thrilled” at the press conference. And Trump reportedly believed he took the correct position in blaming both sides.

On Wednesday, Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd forwarded an email comparing Lee and President George Washington to lawyers and friends. The New York Times later published its contents.

It echoed an argument Trump had made Tuesday, and again Thursday morning.

I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” he asked Tuesday. “You really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

But Trump’s statements Thursday mark the first time as President that he has thrown his weight so forcefully behind monuments to the Confederacy, which were primarily erected in the 20th century, not the 19th.

The President also fundamentally changed his position since Tuesday, when he said localities should determine on their own the fate of Confederate monuments. “I would say that’s up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it is located,” he said at the time.

This post has been updated.

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The attorney general of Alabama sued the city of Birmingham and its mayor on Wednesday over their effort to block a Confederate monument with plywood walls, AL.com reported Wednesday.

Following Saturday’s protest in Charlottesville, Virginia against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park, Birmingham Mayor William Bell moved to obscure his own city’s Confederate monument from view.

Due to a recent state law barring the removal or alteration of monuments located on public land for 40 years or more without a state committee’s approval, however, Bell couldn’t legally order the monument removed, as Baltimore and other localities have done in the wake of the tumultuous weekend in Charlottesville, which left one woman dead after a man who had been photographed with white supremacists allegedly rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Instead, Bell covered up the monument to Confederate veterans, first with tarps and then with wooden walls erected by city workers overnight Tuesday. Bell told reporters earlier in the day that his immediate goal was to temporarily cover the monument “until such time that we can tell the full story of slavery, the full story of what the Confederacy really meant.”

“What the Confederacy represented was the maintaining of individuals as being less than human, of promoting a supremacy doctrine that is no longer valid, and wasn’t valid then,” he added.

In a statement reported by AL.com Wednesday, however, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said that his office had “determined that by affixing tarps and placing plywood around the Linn Park memorial such that it is hidden from view, the defendants have ‘altered’ or ‘otherwise disturbed’ the memorial in violation of the letter and spirit of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.”

The law allows for a $25,000 penalty for every day the memorial is covered, should the city be found to have violated it.

Bell told the publication: “We look forward to the court system clarifying the rights and power of a municipality to control its parks absent state intervention.”

Read the attorney general’s suit below, via Al.com:

Alabama attorney general sues Birmingham by Anonymous 8oSMfUa0p on Scribd

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White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was reportedly “thrilled” and “proud” after President Donald Trump’s comments Tuesday that not everyone who attended a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend was worthy of condemnation.

During an impromptu press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower Tuesday, Trump said “I think there’s blame on both sides” — both the white supremacists’ and counter-protesters’ — for the weekend’s turmoil, and that not everyone who protested the statue’s removal deserved criticism.

“You had people — and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned, totally — but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK?” he said. “And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”

Many in the White House have communicated to reporters — off the record — that Trump’s statements made them uncomfortable. For Bannon, at least according to unnamed sources familiar with his opinion, the opposite is true.

An unnamed “friend” of Bannon’s told Politico the adviser was “thrilled” with the remarks.

And an unnamed source “close” to Bannon told Bloomberg he was “proud” of Trump’s performance.

Bannon has a history with many of the groups and ideologies present at Saturday’s rally, which descended into mayhem and violence and resulted in the death of one counter-protester after a man who had earlier been photographed with white supremacists allegedly rammed his car into a crowd.

“We’re the platform for the alt-right,” Bannon boasted to Mother Jones in July 2016, referring to Breitbart News, the conservative platform he used to run before joining Trump’s campaign for President, and eventually, Trump’s White House.

“Alt-right” is a loose term generally used to refer to the internet savvy countercultural movement of white supremacists and misogynists.

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Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush released a joint statement denouncing “racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms” on Wednesday after President Donald Trump equated protesters under those banners to counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

However, though the statement clearly appeared to be a response to Trump’s equivocations on white supremacy, the Bushes didn’t name Trump explicitly.

“America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms,” the former Presidents wrote, according to a copy of their statement posted by CNN’s Jake Tapper. “As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights.”

“We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country,” they concluded.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared to take a subtle jab at President Donald Trump on Wednesday. But McConnell did not identify Trump by name in a statement condemning white supremacists.

“The white supremacist, KKK, and neo-Nazi groups who brought hatred and violence to Charlottesville are now planning a rally in Lexington,” McConnell wrote in a statement. “Their messages of hate and bigotry are not welcome in Kentucky and should not be welcome anywhere in America.”

He continued: “We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head.”

McConnell’s mention of “no good neo-Nazis” appeared to be a reference to Trump’s press conference Tuesday, in which the President equated white supremacist protesters and the counter-protesters who demonstrated against them over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, who he called “alt-left.”

“I have condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” Trump said, referring to the protesters who gathered in Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park. “Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch.”

“You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK?” Trump added. “And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”

CNN reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed source “close” to McConnell, that the majority leader “is privately upset with the President’s handling of the episode,” and “deeply concerned that Trump is reopening long-festering racial tensions, something that could fan the flames ahead of demonstrations expected in Lexington, Kentucky.”

McConnell and Trump’s relationship has come under strain in recent weeks over the Republican-controlled Senate’s failure to pass major legislation, including the long-hyped effort to repeal Obamacare. McConnell said recently that Trump had “excessive” expectations of the legislative process.

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) on Wednesday called President Donald Trump’s comparison of white supremacist protesters to counter-protesters gathered to oppose them over the weekend in Charlottesville “pathetic” and “terrible.” But the governor added that Trump is “our President, OK?” and “you’re not going to turn your back on the President.”

“Pathetic, isn’t it?” Kasich said, unprompted, at the top of an interview on NBC’s “Today.”

“And to not condemn these people who went there to carry out violence, and to somehow draw some equivalency to somebody else, reduces the ability to totally condemn these hate groups,” he added, referring to Trump’s impromptu press conference Tuesday in which the President did just that.

“The President has to totally condemn this,” Kasich said, adding: “This is not about winning an argument. This is about the fact that now these folks apparently are going to go other places, and they think that they had some sort of a victory. There is no moral equivalency between the KKK, the neo-Nazis and anyone else. Anybody else is not the issue.”

Kasich recalled a ceremony for the unveiling of a Holocaust memorial in Ohio that had to be moved inside because there was a concern that white supremacists would “throw concrete” at attendees.

However, pressed by NBC’s Matt Lauer over whether he would “be willing to be the guy who goes around to Republican leaders and says, ‘This is our moment, we will tell this President we no longer support him, period,’” Kasich balked.

‘Well, Matt, look, he’s our President, OK?” Kasich said. “And I’m here this morning speaking out as aggressively as I can. I hope that it will provide some courage to other people, and there are great numbers of people now speaking out. He is our President, but I want to say that he needs to correct what he has said. He’s got to understand what the people in this country want, and he’s got to bring us together.”

“But you’re not going to turn your back on the President,” Kasich continued. “You’re going to speak clearly and bluntly and say, ’Get your act together.’”

He concluded: “President Trump needs to listen to the people before he takes this presidency in a place that is not acceptable for our country.”

Watch below via NBC:

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Trump loyalist Hope Hicks will serve as the White House’s interim communications director, an unnamed White House official confirmed Wednesday.

The Daily Caller first reported the news just past midnight Wednesday morning.

“Hope Hicks will work with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and all of the communications team and serve as the Interim White House Communications Director,” the unnamed official said in a statement to reporters. “We will make an announcement on a permanent communications director at the appropriate time.”

Hicks, 28, was a political novice prior to the start of Trump’s campaign for president, where she served as a top communications staffer, often referred to as communications director or press secretary. In the White House, she has served as director of strategic communications.

Before politics, Hicks was a model and worked as a PR staffer for Ivanka Trump, and eventually for Donald Trump.

Though she kept a low profile during the 2016 campaign, and in the months since, she’s also outlasted most of her former colleagues, including former communications directors Mike Dubke, Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci.

Hicks is known as an extremely close aide to Trump, even taking dictations of his tweets at times. She was the only other person in attendance when Trump told two New York Times reporters in an Oval Office interview that he would consider it crossing a red line if special counsel Robert Mueller dug into his or his family’s businesses.

Regardless of her experience or the duration of her temporary tenure, Hicks is in for a challenge: On Tuesday, Trump equated white supremacist-led protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend to the counter-protesters who had gathered to oppose them. Asked to compare the two sides during a raucous press conference, Trump said: “I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane.”

Correction: This post initially said Hicks had reportedly been named interim communications director on Thursday. The Daily Caller’s report was published early Wednesday morning.

This post has been updated.

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