Bush presidents wade into Trump furore over Charlottesville

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Does Trump react to some hate crimes faster than others?

Former Presidents George HW Bush and George W Bush have called on the US to "reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms".

They are the latest Republican figures to weigh in on the backlash to Donald Trump's latest remarks blaming "both sides" for violent clashes in Virginia.

It culminated with a woman's death and nearly 20 wounded when a car ploughed into a crowd at the far-right rally.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump disbanded his jobs councils amid an exodus of CEOs.

Representatives from companies like Merck, Under Armour, and Intel had quit the group over Mr Trump's reaction to the events in Charlottesville.

Republican elected officials around the country expressed outrage when Mr Trump appeared to defend the organisers.

"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," a statement from the two former presidents said.

"We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country."

The violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday have sparked a heated debate on US race relations.

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Nine statues have been removed since 2016

A public memorial for Heather Heyer, the woman who was fatally struck by a car that ploughed into a group of anti-racism protesters, was held on Wednesday in Charlottesville.

Her mother, Susan Bro, delivered a powerful speech calling on people to "find a way to make a difference". She added it was "just the beginning of Heather's legacy, not the end".

"They killed my child to shut her up. Well guess what, you just magnified her," she said before the crowd erupted into a standing ovation.

"I'd rather have my child, but by golly, if I'm going to give her up, we're going to make it count," she said.

Image source, AFP
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Joint statements by the two living Republican former presidents are rare

The fallout from Mr Trump's comments on Tuesday continued in Washington, where Republican lawmakers reacted angrily.

Many echoed House Speaker Paul Ryan who said: "White supremacy is repulsive.. There can be no moral ambiguity."

"I think there is blame on both sides," Mr Trump told reporters at a tense press conference at Trump Tower in New York.

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'What Trump said versus what I saw'

Republican outrage rings hollow

Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America reporter

For some top Republicans lately, Donald Trump is He Who Cannot Be Named.

They find it easy to condemn white supremacists and the hate that motivated the violence in Charlottesville, but when it comes time to single the president out for blame - up to and including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan - the criticism becomes oblique and the condemnation implied.

Administration officials are treading even more carefully. Chief of Staff John Kelly may have repeatedly winced on Tuesday, but he's back on the job today. Gary Cohn, the president's senior-most economic adviser, reportedly told friends he was "disgusted" by the president's actions - but not so much that he would speak out on the record.

Perhaps some Republicans - with an eye on polls showing his support among the party faithful largely holding strong - are reluctant to draw the ire of a president known to keep close tabs on his friends and foes.

While outrage over the president's response to Charlottesville has reached a frenzied pitch, storms like this have erupted before and moved on, leaving Mr Trump still standing.

"This too shall pass" isn't always a balm for the distraught. It can also be a warning.

"You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I'll say it right now."

"What about the alt-left that came charging... at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? (...) There are two sides to a story," Mr Trump said in response to one reporter.

He condemned the driver of the car, but said those who had marched in defence of the statue had included "many fine people".

His comments were said to have caught senior White House officials off guard.

Following the news conference, the White House sent a set official talking points to Republican congressmen, urging them to say Mr Trump was "entirely correct" in his latest remarks on Charlottesville.

"Despite the criticism, the President reaffirmed some of our most important Founding principles: We are equal in the eyes of our Creator, equal under the law, and equal under our Constitution," a bullet point read.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
What was new chief of staff John Kelly thinking during the news conference?

Mr Trump's remarks were welcomed by David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who tweeted: "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa."

But many others strongly condemned the comments.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday it was important to condemn far-right views "wherever we hear them".

"I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them," she said.

Of the reactions of some 55 Republican and Democrat politicians collected by the Washington Post, only the spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, Kayleigh McEnany, expressed her support.

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Veteran Republican Senator John McCain tweeted: "There is no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry."

One of Mr Trump's former rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, Marco Rubio sent a series of tweets.

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Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO trade union federation, became the fifth prominent business leader to resign from President Trump's advisory body, the American Manufacturing Council, over the issue.

In another development, the response of former President Barack Obama to the violence in Charlottesville has become the most-liked tweet ever.

The message, quoting Nelson Mandela, reads: "No-one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion."

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