Rep. Francis Rooney calls on Trump to show moral guidance
President Donald Trump said Saturday there was "no place" in the United States for the kind of violence that broke out at a white nationalist rally in Virginia and appealed to Americans to "come together as one." (Aug. 12) AP
U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney has called on President Donald Trump to show more moral guidance to Americans as they heal in the wake of the violent weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“The role of the presidency is the person who is leading our direction, and that’s very important. And past presidents have referred to our moral principles and have had a healing tone and a unifying tone,” Rooney, a devout Catholic, told the Naples Daily News on Thursday. “I would like to see the president do more of that. I think the country needs it. I think the country is crying out for it.”
Rooney, R-Fla., said if he were the president, he would say, “We need to come together in this country and oppose white supremacists and others that divide us in hate and create violence.
“Hatred, violence and bigotry have no place in the United States. If he would just say that and focus on getting our economy and our place secure in the world, that would be a good thing, I think.”
Rooney primarily blamed white supremacists for the violence last weekend in Charlottesville but avoided faulting them entirely.
“The only ones I know who are to blame right now, based on what has been presented, are the supremacists,” said Rooney, of Naples.
Shy of placing 100 percent of the blame on the white nationalists because he didn’t “know all the facts,” Rooney said, “I blame them for inciting violence.”
His reluctance to fully fault the group placed him between the positions of two GOP leaders. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the supremacists were totally to blame. Trump said both sides were responsible.
Rooney also said the police should have anticipated the brutality. White supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members publicly clashed with counterprotesters on Saturday over local officials’ decision to remove a confederate statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville.
The clash turned deadly when a car driven by an alleged neo-Nazi crashed into counterprotesters and killed Heather Heyer, 32.
“What happened in Charlottesville was a failure to make sure the counterprotesters were protected,” Rooney said. “We don’t want white supremacists driving cars through protests.”
Rooney was clear that all groups should have the right to demonstrate and should be protected by law enforcement if they do. Two state troopers also died while patrolling the area in a helicopter.
The controversy over apportioning blame for the violence grew after Trump blamed "many sides" and waited two days to specifically denounce the hate groups. Then he walked those comments back, saying, “both sides” were at fault, including what he referred to as the "alt-left," during a Manhattan news conference in Trump Tower on Tuesday.
Democrats and Republicans criticized President Trump for not calling out white nationalists. Video provided by Newsy Newslook
That day, Rubio chided the president on Twitter, saying, “The organizers of events which inspired & led to #charlottesvilleterroristattack are 100% to blame for a number of reasons.
“Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of the blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain.”
In the aftermath, elected officials throughout the country are removing confederate statues to prevent more violent events.
In Florida a confederate statue named "Old Joe" was removed from Gainesville on Monday and the local community in Tampa is working to raise money to remove a monument honoring Confederate soldiers from a county courthouse.
Other statues have been removed from California, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin, CNN reported.
On Thursday morning Trump took to Twitter to criticize those decisions.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You.....
Rooney said he thought each local community would have to make a choice between two competing and valid arguments on whether to keep the statues. The first argument, he said, is “that we have to learn from our history, and not hide, no matter how odious that statue is. The other is these Civil War statues are so odious and repugnant” that we don’t want them.
He was clear, however, that the decision should be based on how the community feels and not on fear of more protests.
Universities are also taking steps to prevent violence as energized extremists plan their next steps. Texas A&M and the University of Florida have canceled events related to white national groups that were scheduled for the week of Sept. 11.
University of Florida President Kent Fuchs said in a statement issued Wednesday that he supported the First Amendment but not at the risk of violence.
“The First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others,” Fuchs said.