Hill Democrats weigh strategies to link GOP to Trump's controversial 'both sides' comments

Trump defends Charlottesville statement (full remarks)
Trump defends Charlottesville statement (full remarks)

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Story highlights

  • Congressional Democrats are considering responses to President Donald Trump
  • One option is focusing on censuring the President for his Charlottesville remarks
  • The resolution attempts to force House Republicans to publicly rebuke Trump

(CNN)Congressional Democrats plan to relentlessly hammer President Donald Trump's controversial comments arguing that "both sides" were responsible after a protest led by white supremacists in Charlottesville resulted in the death of a young women and ignited a national firestorm.

Republican lawmakers across the ideological spectrum have publicly criticized the President. But Democrats are pushing efforts to keep the pressure on the GOP with a range of tactics that force them to further separate themselves from or defend the President.
They want the House to formally censure Trump, ratchet up congressional investigations on the threat of domestic terror posed by so-called "alt-right" groups, and debate whether Confederate statues should remain in the US Capitol.
    With Republicans in charge of both chambers of Congress there is little chance the Democrats' efforts will go anywhere, and the President has indicated he has no regrets about his rhetoric. But politically, Democrats see the latest string of high-profile headaches for the White House as inflicting damage to the Republican Party. The GOP faces a short window to rack up a major legislative accomplishment before the focus turns to the 2018 midterms.
    There appeared to be some division among top Democrats on the strategy when the President's tweets attempted to turn to the debate from his move to give equal blame to those white supremacist groups and counterprotestors to one about the place in history for Confederate statues.
    New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker called for all Confederate statues to be removed from the Capitol and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi publicly agreed they should go "immediately."
    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, sent a message that he wasn't going to take the bait.
    "President Trump and Steve Bannon are trying to divert attention away from the President's refusal to unequivocally and full-throatedly denounce white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and other forms of bigotry. While it is critical that we work towards the goal of Senator Cory Booker's legislation, we must continue to denounce and resist President Trump for his reprehensible actions."
    House and Senate Democratic aides insisted there was no split on how to respond to the President and say that the debate over statues is just one of a "kitchen sink" of items they plan to use now and when Congress returns in September from the summer recess.
    "Whether it's the adulation of Confederate statues, the hiring of white supremacists as staff in the White House, or his confusion in knowing right from wrong, true from false or American patriotism from white nationalism, Democrats are united in continuing to hold President Trump accountable for his actions and statements," Pelosi's spokesman, Drew Hammill, told CNN.
    The main focus now is a push to censure the President for his divisive comments. On Friday, 79 House Democrats introduced a censure resolution that specifically states, "President Donald Trump has failed to provide adequate condemnation and assure the American people of his resolve to opposing domestic terrorism."
    The three House Democrats who crafted the resolution say recent comments from Hill Republicans making it clear they disagree with the President were not enough.
    "History will remember how we responded, not just in tweets and prepared statements, but through action and a unified voice," Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-New York, Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-New Jersey, and Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, said in a statement.
    Pelosi immediately backed the move, saying, "Democrats will use every avenue to challenge the repulsiveness of President Trump's words and actions."
    The resolution attempts to force House Republicans to publicly rebuke him in a formal vote on the House floor. It's unlikely it will get a vote in the House judiciary committee, but Democrats can use a procedural move to force action on the House floor, which Nadler told CNN in a phone interview Friday "is one of the options" to move the issue.
    Nadler said he "totally" supports removing the Confederate statues from the Capitol and has for "a long time." But he said "more important at the moment are the President's comments to try and establish a moral equivalency" between white nationalists and the counterprotestors in Charlottesville.
    "There is no moral equivalency and should be no tolerance," Nadler said. He said he had reached out to House judiciary committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte about the resolution, but he said the Virginia Republican was traveling, adding that he expected to connect with him next week. Nadler said he had called a couple of House Republicans about backing the measure, but declined to identify them.
    California Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican member of the judiciary committee, called for hearings on the terror threat from white supremacist groups, and Nadler said Issa was "certainly someone we would be talking to."
    Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch gave a preview of the message Republicans will hear on the censure effort.
    "This is not complicated," Deutch said on CNN on Friday. "This is a moment for Democrats and Republicans to come together to make an historical record that the United States Congress and the people we represent are appalled, appalled and disgusted, when the President of the United States looks at what happens and tries to provide cover for the anti-Semites and the racists who were marching."
    House Republicans declined to publicly comment on the resolution. They view it as another political volley during a time when they are determined to deal with pressing deadlines to avoid a government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, and make progress on tax reform this fall.
    So far the House homeland security committee Chairman Michael McCaul has announced a September 12 hearing on overall security threats, where the issue of neo-Nazis, the KKK and other alt rights groups is expected to come up. But it's unclear if GOP leaders are planning any other action.
    The censure resolution also specifically called for Bannon to be fired, and news that he was forced out on Friday pleased Hill Democrats. Many have been calling for his ouster, but are now concentrating on two other top White House advisers -- Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka, two allies of Bannon's who Democrats say are architects of many of the President's policies.