WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump said he rejects white supremacism and anti-Semitism, but did not say how he would counter the phenomena and angrily rejected claims that his rhetoric spurs division.
Reporters peppered Trump with questions about a range of issues in a free-wheeling news conference on Wednesday after Trump’s Republican Party lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives but made gains in the Senate the day before.
A number of reporters asked Trump about the dangers of right-wing extremism, especially in light of the massacre last month in Pittsburgh, when a gunman killed 11 Jews at a synagogue complex in the worst attack on Jews in U.S. history.
“It’s very sad, I hate to see it,” he said of anti-Semitism before noting the praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
“Many presidents have said they will build the embassy in Jerusalem, never happened, but it happened with me,” he said.
Pressed by the reporter on divisiveness and anti-Semitism in America, Trump said that the continued success of the American economy would help, and argued that he was closing the trade gap with China.
Another reporter asked whether Trump would restore funding for monitoring the extreme right that was cut by his Department of Homeland Security.
“I believe all hate is a problem, I do believe it’s a problem and it’s a problem we’re going to solve,” he said.
Pressed for specifics, Trump said “It’s a problem I don’t like a little bit.”
The killer in Pittsburgh reviled Trump as too close to Jews but embraced the president’s dire warning that a convoy of migrants trekking through Mexico was set to “invade” the United States. Immediately before the shooting, the shooter railed against HIAS, the Jewish agency that advocates for immigrants. The day before the killings, a Trump enthusiast was arrested on suspicion that he sent at least 15 pipe bombs to liberals, Democrats and CNN, all of whom were specific targets of Trump’s verbal and social media attacks.
In the closing days of the midterm campaign, Trump approved an ad linking a Hispanic man convicted of killing two U.S. police officers to Democratic immigration policies. CNN refused to air the ad, saying it was racist, while NBC pulled the ad from future use after airing it during a football game. Fox News also said it would not air the ad.
In August Trump tweeted that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to study the “large scale killing” of white farmers in South Africa, crediting a broadcast by Fox News host Tucker Carlson for alerting him to the issue. White supremacists have long repeated a discredited theory of “white genocide” in South Africa.
Trump lashed out at reporters who asked him whether his rhetoric was encouraging white nationalists. An African-American reporter for PBS, Yamiche Alcindor, asked him whether his recent embrace of “nationalism” was a signal to white supremacists.
“That’s such a racist question,” the president responded. “What you just said is so insulting to me.”