WASHINGTON — Donald Trump is embroiled in another controversy, and this time some Republicans on Capitol Hill are less willing to defend him.
After dining with notorious white supremacist Nick Fuentes and rapper Ye, who has come under fire for anti-Semitic comments, former President Trump faces mounting denunciations from Republican senators, including some nominal allies who rarely, if ever, criticize him. him or his actions.
In interviews with NBC News as the Senate returned from Thanksgiving recess on Monday, reactions from Senate Republicans ranged from horrified incredulity to calls to shake up Trump’s team of advisers to a sense of vindication among his most vocal critics. staunch within the party. There was little desire to ignore or downplay the incident, as most Republican lawmakers tend to do when Trump stirs up controversy, and little indication that any of them wanted to defend the former party chair from him.
“Ridiculous. That’s all I have to say about it,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Republican leadership. “I have no idea what’s going on,” she added. “But then again It’s really ridiculous that he would do that.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., also searched for the right word to describe the Trump-Fuentes dinner. Like Ernst, she too came up with the word “ridiculous.”
“I think you should certainly know who you’re having dinner with, and I think, uh, I want to make sure I’m using the right word… I think it’s ridiculous to be sitting with someone who espouses such views.” Capito. he told reporters.
Asked if he blames Trump or his staff, Capito replied: “We are all responsible for our own actions.”
Trump, on Friday, claimed he “knew nothing about” Fuentes, a well-known figure in far-right circles, saying he turned up “unexpectedly” for dinner with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West.
The normally reticent conservative Sen. Deb Fisher, R-Nebraska, made a rare break with Trump, saying of Fuentes when asked about Monday’s dinner: “I think it’s always wrong to raise the rhetoric that that gentleman, or that person , employ. .”
The Republican denunciations come at a dangerous time for Trump after his dinner with Fuentes. Trump recently announced his plans to run for president again in 2024, and it’s unclear whether criticism from Republican senators will persist, let alone loosen his grip on him on party grounds.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the 2012 Republican White House candidate, fiercely rebuked the former president and his decision to dine with Fuentes and Ye, calling it “a character issue.”
“There is no bottom line to the degree to which he is willing to demean himself, and the country for that matter. Dining with those people was disgusting,” Romney said, noting that he “voted to remove [Trump] from office twice” and that “anyone else” would be a better party leader.
“I don’t think I should be president of the United States. I don’t think he should be our party’s candidate in 2024,” he said. “And I certainly don’t want him hanging over our party like a gargoyle.”
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, who voted to convict Trump in his 2021 impeachment trial, told NBC News: “I condemn white supremacy and anti-Semitism. The president should never have had a meal or even a meeting with Nick Fuentes.”
These were not the questions that Republican senators wanted answered on Capitol Hill on the first day back from their Thanksgiving vacation. But given the severity of the problem, some lawmakers acknowledged that “no comment,” a standard response when Trump gets into trouble, wouldn’t cut it.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., Trump’s golf partner, said the former president made the wrong decision to dine with Fuentes and Ye, though he doubted it would hurt Trump’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
“No, the meeting was bad. I shouldn’t have done it,” Graham said. “But again, you know, there’s a double standard about this kind of thing. And I don’t think it matters in terms of his political future, but I do think we need to see who we meet with. We shouldn’t give oxygen to people who think this way.”
“And here’s another thought: if a guy’s name is Yeh, or Ye, you probably shouldn’t be with them,” Graham said, not sure how to pronounce the rapper’s name.
Others issued sweeping denunciations of anti-Semitism without mentioning Trump or Fuentes.
“We cannot tolerate anti-Semitism, period,” said Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the incoming chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee.
Sen. Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, the outgoing chairman of the NRSC, said: “There’s no room in the Republican Party for white supremacist anti-Semitism, so it’s wrong.”
Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said: “Anti-Semitism is wrong and white supremacy is wrong and that’s it. That’s what I think.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, one of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top lieutenants, said he couldn’t be bothered with questions about Trump and Fuentes.
“I don’t know who it is. And I don’t see any reason for me to comment on what individuals do or don’t do,” Cornyn said. “I have more important things to do”.
McConnell, for his part, indicated that he would address the issue at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. In the House, which returns to session on Tuesday, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is leaning to the right to try to win votes to become House speaker next year, had no comment.
Trump has blamed Ye for bringing Fuentes to dinner. Writing in Truth Social, Trump called the rapper a “man with serious problems” and said he had no idea who Fuentes was.
Sen. Thom Tillis, RN.C., said he took Trump at his word and blamed the former president’s staff for failing to investigate Fuentes.
“If the reports are true and the president didn’t know who he was, whoever let him into the room should be fired,” Tillis said.
Several potential 2024 rivals criticized Trump for sitting down with Fuentes, including his own vice president, Mike Pence, who said Trump “demonstrated profoundly poor judgment.”
“President Trump was wrong to give a seat at the table to a white nationalist, an anti-Semite and a Holocaust denier. And I think he should apologize for it and should denounce those individuals and their unreservedly hateful rhetoric,” Pence said Monday during an appearance on NewsNation.
“I don’t think Donald Trump is an anti-Semite. I don’t think he is a racist or a bigot. He would not have been his vice president if he was,” Pence added. “People often forget that the president’s daughter converted to Judaism, her son-in-law is a devout Jew, her grandchildren are Jews.”