Criticizing Donald Trump is complicated for Republicans in Congress, who inevitably release disapproving statements of varying intensity when he pushes the bounds of good taste or, as was the case with Charlottesville, less tepid statements when he transgresses them entirely. While nearly every lawmaker who spoke out on the subject made clear that they were, at least, uncomfortable with Trump’s assessment that there were some “very fine people” among the white nationalists who rallied in the small Virginia city last month, resulting in the death of a counter-protester, few criticized the president by name. And Republican leadership declined to take up a Democratic proposal to officially censure the president. “I think that would be—that would be so counterproductive,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said at the time, adding that it would “descend this issue into some partisan hack-fest, into some bickering against each other” that would fail to “unify this country.”
Still, Republicans have now delivered a notable rebuke to President Trump, even if it falls short of censure. On Tuesday night, the House joined the Senate in approving a joint resolution calling the Charlottesville protests a “domestic terror attack” and explicitly condemning “white nationalists, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups” that appeared at the rally. Notably, it did not include criticism of the left-wing “antifa” groups whose presence Trump used to justify his claim that there was violence “on many sides.” Most important, the document urges Trump to “speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy,” and use his powers as president to fight these groups.
The House passed the resolution unanimously. “I think it’s great for [Democrats and Republicans] to be able to make a moral call that white supremacy’s not acceptable, and I want the president to have to sign it,” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, who drafted the resolution with Virginia Democrat Mark R. Warner, told The Washington Post. “We wouldn’t have had to add in that point had he not demonstrated this moral equivocation at the time, but I think it would be a really good thing.”
Ordinarily, the kind of language in the resolution—a lawmaking vehicle normally used to recognize fake holidays like National Purebred Dog Day—would be wholly uncontroversial. But with a president who reportedly chafedwhen his advisers urged him to make a scripted statement explicitly condemning white supremacists and their ilk, the response from the White House was telling: shortly after the bill passed, a White House spokesperson told Politico that there were “no announcements at this time” as to whether Trump would sign it.
Assuming that Trump ultimately approves the resolution, it would be the second time that Congress has strong-armed the president. In July, the Senate forced Trump’s hand when it approved new sanctions on Russia, sending him a bill that the White House had argued would limit the administration’s flexibility to conduct diplomacy. The president ultimately signed the bill behind closed doors, issuing a terse accompanying statement complaining, passive-aggressively, about Congress’s betrayal. “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected,” Trump wrote in an unusual signing statement. “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”
This piece was originally published at Vanity Fair.