The top two Republicans in Congress on Tuesday condemned former president Donald Trump’s recent dinner with a white nationalist, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warning that keeping such company could end a presidential candidate’s White House ambitions.
The comments came nearly a week after reports that Trump — who announced his presidential candidacy for 2024 this month — met with hip-hop artist Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and far-right activist Nick Fuentes at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. McConnell did not mention Trump by name but joined a small group of Republicans who recently condemned the controversial meeting.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who hopes to win enough votes to be speaker during the next congressional term, criticized Trump’s decision without attacking the former president directly. McCarthy had been silent for several days about Trump’s dinner with Fuentes, a white nationalist who has espoused racist and antisemitic views, endorsed segregation and denied the Holocaust.
“The president can have meetings with who he wants,” the lawmaker said Tuesday at the White House following a meeting between President Biden and congressional leaders. “But I don’t think anybody should have a meeting with Nick Fuentes. And his views are nowhere within the Republican Party or within this country itself.”
McCarthy falsely claimed that Trump condemned Fuentes’s rhetoric four times; the former president has not.
After a reporter corrected McCarthy, noting that Trump neither condemned Fuentes nor his ideology, the lawmaker condemned Fuentes’s worldview himself.
“Well, I condemn his ideology,” he said. “It has no place in society at all.”
Trump, in an interview with Fox News Digital on Tuesday, said that he did not know Fuentes’s views and that had he expressed them during a “very quick dinner,” they “wouldn’t have been accepted.” But the former president did not condemn the white nationalist or Ye for their antisemitic views.
Trump also insisted that he is a best friend to Israel, an argument that ignores the antisemitism expressed by his dinner companions.
“I gave them the embassy in Jerusalem,” Trump said, referring to his administration’s decision in 2018 to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In his interview, Trump also doubled down on his criticism of McConnell, calling him “a loser for our nation and for the Republican Party” while falsely claiming that he was crucial to McConnell’s reelection bid in 2020.
Ye recently lost billions of dollars of net worth after businesses cut ties with him for repeatedly making antisemitic remarks. Fuentes has been labeled a white supremacist leader by the Anti-Defamation League, a charge that he denies.
While some GOP lawmakers told reporters that there is no room in their party for antisemitic and white supremacist views in recent days, many of these Republicans — including rumored White House hopefuls — refrained from addressing Trump directly. Instead, they criticized Fuentes and those who advised Trump to meet with the Holocaust denier.
Trump acknowledged on Tuesday night that he had a private dinner with Fuentes and Ye at his resort in Palm Beach, Fla. According to a post on TruthSocial, the former president said that Ye had called him “to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago” and that the rapper then “unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about.”
In a Monday speech on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on Democratic and Republican lawmakers to join him in criticizing Trump over the meeting.
It was a message on which Schumer doubled down Tuesday. “[Trump] still hasn’t denounced him. That is just an utter disgrace,” Schumer said. “That is un-American. That is not what any leader of any party, of any philosophy, should do.”
Mike Pence, who served as Trump’s vice president and is expected to launch a 2024 bid of his own, strongly criticized Trump’s dinner in an interview Monday.
“President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table,” he told NewsNation. “I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a frequent critic of Trump, called the former president’s decision to dine with Ye and Fuentes “disgusting” before sharing his belief that Trump should not be the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee.
“There is no bottom to the degree to which he’s willing to degrade himself, and the country for that matter. Having dinner with those people was disgusting,” Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, told NBC News. “I don’t think he should be president of the United States. I don’t think he should be the nominee of our party in 2024.”
“And I certainly don’t want him hanging over our party like a gargoyle,” he added. “It’s a character issue.”
Amy B Wang contributed to this report.