The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ryan: Trump ‘messed up’ reaction to violence in Charlottesville

President Trump waves alongside House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, left, as Trump leaves the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 16. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Monday he was disappointed with President Trump’s failure to denounce white supremacists in the wake of violence at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., but Ryan said he would not endorse an effort to formally censure Trump for his response.

“I do believe he messed up in his comments on Tuesday,” Ryan said during a town hall on CNN. “I do think he could have done better.”

Ryan said he found Trump’s comments “not only morally ambiguous but it was equivocating” and criticized the president for comparing the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who organized the “Unite the Right” rally with the counterprotesters who rallied to oppose them. Ryan said he did not support Trump’s comment that “very fine people” were among those who participated in the rally. But he said it would be a mistake to reduce the discussion over white supremacy to a partisan attack on Trump.

Rabbi Dena Feingold, the sister of former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), asked Ryan if he would support Democrats in their calls for a vote to formally censure Trump over the comments.

“I will not support that, I think that will be so counterproductive,” Ryan said at the event in his home state of Wisconsin. “It is very, very important that we don’t make this a partisan food fight.”

Feingold said her congregation is fearful in the wake of the violence and asked Ryan how he would hold Trump accountable. Ryan dismissed the idea of censure, saying Trump had taken steps to clarify his position. Ryan said a vote to condemn Trump would only further divide the country and turn the conversation into a partisan fight.

“I’m pleased with the things he said tonight to add clarity to the confusion I think he gave us on Tuesday night,” Ryan said. “It should not be about the president. This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats. This shouldn’t be about some vote in Congress or some partisan issue.”