Toomey, Perry slam bigotry as GOP grapples with Trump’s remarks

Staff and wire reports

Local Rep. Scott Perry and Sen. Pat Toomey were among numerous GOP officials issuing statements condemning white supremacist groups in response to President Donald Trump's latest comments.

With the party in turmoil, the Senate’s top Republican on Wednesday condemned the “messages of hate and bigotry” carried by the KKK and white supremacists. But like other top GOP officials, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not criticize Trump, who said a day earlier the white supremacists don’t bear all of the blame for last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

FILE - In this June 27, 2017 file photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Donald Trump raised the possibility Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 that McConnell should step down if he can't muscle health care and other legislation through the Senate, taking an extraordinary swipe at the man with the most power to steer the White House agenda through the chamber. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

“We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head,” McConnell said in a statement, noting that white supremacists are planning a rally in his home state of Kentucky.

“Their messages of hate and bigotry are not welcome in Kentucky and should not be welcome anywhere in America,” he said.

McConnell’s statement comes as the Republican Party grapples with the latest political crisis created by its leader. This one follows a violent weekend clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters that left one person dead and many more injured.

More: Wolf posts criticism of Trump’s ‘blame on both sides’ remark

Trump said Tuesday that there were “some very bad people” among the neo-Nazis and KKK members who organized the Virginia protest. He also sympathized with some of those who were protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. He said, “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

More: Combative Trump insists anew: Virginia blame ‘on both sides’

The comments sparked a fierce backlash across the political spectrum. Few Republican officeholders defended the president for what some critics described as a defining moment in his young presidency, yet few called him out by name either.

In this file photo, Sen. Pat Toomey, gestures during his press conference at Strinestown Fire Company Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. Amanda J. Cain photo

Toomey said in a statement that "there is no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, bigots and white supremacists, and those who oppose them."

"Our country has no room for corrupt ideology or violent acts," he added

Perry issued a longer statement alleging that white supremacist groups who went to Charlottesville "did so prepared for a fight, and they're absolutely accountable for the violence there."

"I have a visceral disdain for the goals/actions of white supremacists and neo-Nazis — as I do for all 'hate groups,'" Perry said in the statement. "It's a sad day, indeed, when I must, once again, condemn the rhetoric and ideology of hatred — which, frankly, should go without saying."

Perry and Toomey had both issued initial statements following the violence in Charlottesville, though local activists were critical of Perry's statement — "We must be united against bigotry and hate" — because he did not specifically condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

"The event in Charlottesville didn’t happen in a vacuum and isn't the first type of incendiary riot rooted in hatred that we’ve seen recently — which, in and of itself, should be alarming to all Americans," Perry continued in his statement Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, talks about having a "meaningful Memorial Day" during the annual York County Memorial Day at Veterans Memorial Park, Sunday, May 29, 2017.  John A. Pavoncello photo

"We can’t let our national discourse fall into the trap of picking and choosing sides to blame," he added. "We need to choose rational discourse, debate, agree to disagree, defend the First Amendment and compromise for the good of our Country. Anti-fascists, white supremacists and other extremist groups are becoming increasingly active and attempting to hijack our democracy. The cowards who perpetrate these acts of violence must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and we must be united against bigotry and hatred — in ALL forms and guises.”

More: PHOTOS: Protests in Charlottesville, Virginia

One who did call Trump out by name, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, said Wednesday that the president “took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally” and the people demonstrating against them.

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J., Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. The president raised the possibility that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should step down if he can't muscle health care and other legislation through the Senate, taking an extraordinary swipe at the man with the most power to steer the White House agenda through the chamber. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world,” Graham added.

Former Republican Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush responded as well, releasing a joint statement that stopped short of criticizing Trump’s comments directly. “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms,” the Bushes said.

The statement was in line with comments the day before from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said “white supremacy is repulsive” but ignored the president’s comments.

Locally: In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery and Delaware counties, sent out a co-sponsorship memo Wednesday to condemn Nazis and white supremacists.

Steve Hoenstine, a spokesman for Leach's office, said the memo was sent out before 10 a.m. Wednesday and, as of 3 p.m., five Democrats and no Republicans had signed on as co-sponsors.

Hoenstine said he thought it was a little unusual because noncontroversial resolutions usually garner quick bipartisan support.

Leach said he's hoping other senators just haven't checked their email yet, because condemning Nazis should garner unanimous support.

Leach, who is running for a U.S. House seat in 2018, has been consistently critical of Trump during the president's time in office, and he has criticized the president's comments on Charlottesville as well.

But he decided to leave Trump's name out of his resolution, he said, because that could put Republican senators in a difficult position, and he wants to make sure the underlying issue of intolerance and hate from these groups is addressed.

York County's Republican senators and representatives could not be reached for comment on this story.

The Democratic Party of York County has been critical of Sen. Scott Wagner, who is running for governor in 2018, for failing to issue a public statement on his social media profiles in response to violence at Charlottesville.

Wagner told The York Dispatch on Tuesday, Aug. 15, that he has always condemned any type of hatred but didn't want to get involved in a national debate.

He offered a Senate resolution — similar to the one Leach is proposing — to condemn acts of hate that occurred against Jewish communities in the state earlier this year.

— Staff reporter David Weissman and The Associated Press contributed to this story.