Asked twice to say how President Donald Trump’s mealy-mouthed response to racist violence affects America’s reputation abroad, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to defend the president’s remarks and went to far as to say the president doesn’t speak for the United States.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Tillerson about a United Nations commission’s public condemnation of Trump’s both-sides reaction to deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. This week, the UN’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination blasted both Trump’s comments and the broader state of racially tinged violence in America.
“When the president gets into the kind of controversy he does and the UN committee responds the way it does, it seems to say they begin to doubt whether we’re living those values,” Wallace said to Tillerson.
“I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values or the commitment of the American government or the government’s agencies to advancing those values and defending those values,” Tillerson responded.
“And the president’s values?” Wallace asked.
“The president speaks for himself, Chris,” Tillerson said. The interview ended there.
Tillerson’s comments stop far short of the kind of condemnation that a handful of other Trump allies have leveled over the president’s embrace of neoconfederate hate groups. For example, top economic adviser Gary Cohn told the Financial Times that Trump’s team “must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has leveled criticisms milder than Cohn’s but more explicit than Tillerson’s in the two weeks since the president praised “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville clash and argued that Confederate traitors should be held in the same esteem as the nation’s founders.
Neither Ryan, Tillerson, nor Cohn have resigned their posts or signaled that their discomfort with Trump’s views on race-hate groups is great enough for them to stop trying to advance the president’s agenda.
Still, it’s striking that the country’s top diplomat is now signaling that it is the State Department, not the president, who speaks for American values.