DAVID GREENE, HOST:
After the deadly events over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va., President Trump placed blame, quote, "on many sides."
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Yeah, and those remarks didn't go far enough for Democrats, and even many Republicans, who then called on the president to directly denounce the white supremacists behind the violence. Here's Republican Senator Lindsey Graham speaking on "Fox News Sunday."
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LINDSEY GRAHAM: He missed an opportunity to be very explicit here. And I would urge the president to dissuade these groups that he's their friend.
MARTIN: In an attempt to curb the criticism, Vice President Mike Pence later spoke out more forcefully. This happened last night.
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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We have no tolerance for hate and violence, white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK.
GREENE: And let's talk about this more with Jamelle Bouie, who's the chief political correspondent for Slate magazine. Jamelle, welcome.
JAMELLE BOUIE: Hi. Thank you for having me.
GREENE: So if the president was holding back on calling out these white nationalist groups, what do you make of that? Why would he be doing that?
BOUIE: It's a little hard to discern, in part because this isn't the first time he's done this or that the administration has done this - or his campaign. So recall last year when he was asked to denounce David Duke, and he said he had never heard of David Duke, and then so and so forth.
GREENE: Former KKK leader you're talking about, yeah.
BOUIE: Right, the former KKK leader. And later his campaign said, well, of course Donald Trump denounces David Duke. And so this is the kind of thing that's happened before. And I think that fact has led some observers, and frankly me, to wonder if this isn't an - like, an explicit political move, right? He, in some sense, recognizes that these are figures who see him as validating - who make up part of his, you know, most extreme activist base, and he doesn't want to alienate them.
GREENE: That would suggest that some at least think that that sort of response would be politically beneficial to the president. Is there no political risk for him if he doesn't strongly condemn groups like this?
BOUIE: Oh, there's huge political risk. Americans, in general, have a pretty difficult time talking about racism and race. But they can identify white supremacists pretty easily, too. And the reaction to what happened in Charlottesville across the country - marches in solidarity, you know, the denouncement from Republicans and Democrats - this suggests that President Trump is walking on very thin ice by not personally denouncing what happened in Charlottesville in sort of specific terms. And it doesn't help either that this - like, there's a noted contrast to his equivocation here, just with the events of the past week, where he was very resolute and firm and specific with the case of North Korea, for example.
GREENE: Which is known - I mean, he's known for being - for being blunt and specific. I just wonder, as you've taken all of this in over the weekend, what did - what is your takeaway? What are you thinking about this morning?
BOUIE: My - I guess my general thought is that when the president was elected, it felt at the time like there was a sudden validation of white nationalist attitudes - that those people were celebrating. And I think it's clear now that they were celebrating for a reason.
MARTIN: It's worth noting that an ally of Donald Trump's, Bob Dole, in his 1996 Republican address at the convention, said as follows. If there's anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, let me remind you tonight, this hall belongs to the party of Lincoln. The exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of.
GREENE: Yeah, a lot of people have been pointing to some of those past comments over the weekend from people like Dole. Jamelle Bouie from Slate magazine, thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.
BOUIE: Thank you for having me.
GREENE: And I think it's probably worth remembering the catalyst for all of these events in Charlottesville - right? - I mean, how it began before this turned deadly.
MARTIN: Yeah, so this was a gathering. It had been held as a Unite the Right rally. White supremacists and neo-Nazis were protesting the city's plan to remove this Confederate statue memorializing General Robert E. Lee. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was at the rally, and he said this.
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DAVID DUKE: This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump - because he said he's going to take our country back.
GREENE: Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke there. NPR's Sarah McCammon is on the line with us from Charlottesville, Va. Hi, Sarah.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.
GREENE: So David Duke talking about this as a turning point. What - was this rally ever really about Confederate monuments, or was it about much more?
MCCAMMON: Yes, and it's about something much bigger. I mean, that is what sparked it, but there is more to it. So over the last few months, as you may recall, in Charlottesville, we've seen a range of groups from, you know, the alt-right to white nationalists to the KKK coming here to protest the planned removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that stands in a park here.
But the unifying theme from all these groups seems to be that they, you know, believe that what they describe as a white heritage, or European history and culture, are somehow under threat. And they see these Confederate symbols as a galvanizing issue.
And, of course, this is an issue that many cities are grappling with across the South and beyond. But, you know, things have really come to a head here in Charlottesville, which really, I should note, is known as a relatively progressive college town and a place where there's a lot local pushback to these far right-wing politics.
GREENE: It's interesting that you talk about other cities, which makes me wonder if this is a one-off, or is this sort of violence potentially becoming almost a new normal?
MCCAMMON: Well, it does happen at a time when these kind of overlapping and intersecting groups and their leaders - you know, people like David Duke - have said they're energized by President Trump's election. They're growing, at least in prominence, and there are some indications in numbers, as well. You know, they're - just yesterday in Seattle there was another right-wing rally.
Meanwhile, in Lexington, Ky., the mayor there has said he's going to remove two Confederate-era monuments, something he said he wanted to do anyway - planned to do anyway, but he's moving up that announcement in light of this weekend's events. And so, you know, it is something a lot of cities are facing at a time when this issue is kind of in the crosshairs of some of these groups.
GREENE: NPR's Sarah McCammon speaking to us this morning from Charlottesville, Va. Sarah, thanks very much.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
GREENE: Now, earlier we heard from Vice President Mike Pence about the events in Charlottesville. And he actually made those comments while in Cartagena, Colombia.
MARTIN: The vice president is traveling this week in South America, and an issue surely to dominate discussions on this trip will be the deepening political crisis in Venezuela. Last week, President Trump surprised a lot of people by raising the option of U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.
GREENE: NPR's Tamara Keith is traveling with Vice President Pence. She joins us from Cartagena. Hey, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.
GREENE: So before we get to the issues directly relating to this trip, the vice president comes out with some stronger language that people did not - had not heard from President Trump. What did you make of that?
KEITH: Yeah, he was responding to a reporter's question that, in part, included the criticism that President Trump has received. And Vice President Pence did this thing that he's sort of perfected at this point, which is translating President Trump, saying that President Trump made a strong statement about hatred and bigotry, but then saying the words - saying Nazis, saying white nationalists, saying the words that President Trump was criticized for not saying and condemning those groups firmly.
And then he also tried to sort of explain what the president had meant by saying that there were many sides, calling out the behavior of others of different militant perspectives, is what he said. And that was alluding to some of the more violent - a minority among the counter-protesters who did have more violent tendencies.
GREENE: OK, so Pence talking about Charlottesville on this trip, but also talking about a subject, or everyone is waiting to see how he handles a subject that involves other words from President Trump. He made these comments about a possible military option in Venezuela. A lot of people weren't totally clear on what he meant. How is Pence addressing this?
KEITH: Yeah, and again he did that role of Trump translator, saying...
GREENE: He's getting used to that, it sounds like.
KEITH: Exactly - that President Trump had sent them there to look for peaceful solutions, that when President Trump talked about a military option, he also said that there were many options. And Pence really put an emphasis on the many options. Here's what he said.
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PENCE: What the world heard last week, in the voice of President Donald Trump, was resolve and determination, a determination not to let this moment slip, not to stand idly by while a neighbor collapses into dictatorship.
KEITH: And he was talking about Venezuela. President Trump's floating of the idea of a military option really did not play well here in Latin America. And there was sort of this remarkable moment of this joint press conference with Colombian President Santos standing right next to Vice President Pence, saying, since friends have to tell each other the truth, I've told Vice President Pence that the possibility of a military intervention shouldn't even be considered. He said that there's a history of U.S. military intervention in this region and that he would like it to stay in the past.
GREENE: And we should say, Venezuela has been in such political crisis with the president there trying to consolidate power - people - I mean, food shortages, it's just - it's just been a mess.
NPR's Tamara Keith is traveling with Vice President Mike Pence on his trip to Latin America. She's speaking to us from Cartagena, Colombia. Tam, thanks as always.
KEITH: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF JESSE COOK'S "SANTA MARTA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.