President Donald Trump is not backing off his defiant response to violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia last month.
The president told reporters on Thursday that he told Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., in a one-on-one meeting that "you have some pretty bad dudes" opposing white nationalists. His comments echoed the most divisive remarks he has made as president, which drew criticism from bipartisan lawmakers, business leaders and his own advisors.
Trump invited Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, to the meeting Wednesday in what the White House reportedly called a demonstration of his commitment to positive race relations.
Trump says he told Scott that violence by some in the so-called antifa movement — far-left groups who oppose white nationalists — justified his remarks condemning "both sides" for the Charlottesville violence. A suspected white nationalist is accused of ramming a car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, killing one woman and injuring many others.
Here's Trump's summary of his meeting with Scott, according to pool reporters aboard Air Force One:
I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what's going on there. You have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also and essentially that's what I said. Now because of what's happened since then with Antifa. When you look at really what's happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying and people have actually written, 'Gee, Trump may have a point.' I said there's some very bad people on the other side also.
Scott's office responded to Trump's comments by saying he was "very, very clear about the brutal history surrounding the white supremacist movement and their horrific treatment of black and other minority groups."
"Rome wasn't built in a day, and to expect the president's rhetoric to change based on one 30 minute conversation is unrealistic," the statement said. "Antifa is bad and should be condemned, yes, but white supremacists have been killing and tormenting black Americans for centuries. There is no realistic comparison."
Last month, when Trump said "very fine people" marched with the white nationalists in Virginia, his remarks drew widespread condemnation. The comments led to the dissolution of two business councils advising Trump and caused White House chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, among others, to publicly rebuke the president.
Scott's office also commended Trump for saying he wanted to diversify his staff. The statement also said he was encouraged by Trump considering his Investing in Opportunity Act, which aims to invest in economically distressed communities.