President Donald Trump decried on Thursday the removal of monuments to the pro-slavery Civil War Confederacy, echoing white nationalists and drawing stinging rebukes from fellow Republicans in a controversy that has inflamed racial tensions.
Trump has alienated Republicans, corporate leaders and U.S. allies, rattled markets and prompted speculation about possible White House resignations with his comments since Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, which came in the aftermath of a white nationalist protest against the removal of a Confederate statue.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned Trump’s capacity to govern.
“The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the ability or the competence that he needs to be successful,” said Corker, who Trump had considered for the job of secretary of state. Corker said Trump needed to make “radical changes.”
Trump unleashed attacks on two Republican U.S. senators, Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham, in a series of Twitter posts on Thursday, raising fresh doubts about his ability to work with lawmakers in his own party to win passage of his legislative agenda, which includes tax cuts and infrastructure spending.
He took aim at the removal or consideration for removal of Confederate statues and monuments in a long list of cities in California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Virginia, and Texas, as well as Washington, D.C.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it,” Trump wrote on Twitter, refusing to move past the controversy.
“Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!” Trump said. He was referring to two Confederate generals in the Civil War that ended in 1865, and to early U.S. presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves but whose legacies are overwhelmingly honored.
Opponents call the statues a festering symbol of racism, while supporters say they honor American history. Some of the monuments have become rallying points for white nationalists but also have the support of some people interested in historical preservation.
Trump also denied he had spoken of “moral equivalency” between white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members who clashed with anti-racism activists in Charlottesville.