U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Wednesday that President Donald Trump should have condemned white supremacists in Tuesday night’s debate after he told members of a far-right group to “stand back and stand by” in his first debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
In a segment addressing race, the president was asked whether he would condemn white supremacist groups, such as the Proud Boys, a self-described “western chauvinist” group that helped organize the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one counter-protester was killed after being run down by a car, and has been involved in ongoing conflict in Portland, Oregon.
Trump at first answered “sure,” but then he declined to explicitly reject the Proud Boys upon further questioning by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News and after Biden mentioned the group by name. He said the group should “stand back and stand by.” Some Proud Boys’ leaders appeared to celebrate his comments in the aftermath of the debate.
Collins, a Republican, was critical of Trump’s comments Wednesday, saying in a statement that intolerance and white supremacy “have no place in our country.”
“The President should always condemn any kind of hate, and he should have done so last night,” she said.
The Maine senator also told reporters in Washington that the debate was “the least educational debate of any presidential debate I’ve ever seen” and derided “interrupting on both sides,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Collins made headlines in 2016 for disavowing Trump, whom she called “unfit” to hold public office, though she has declined to say whether she supports him this year as she faces the most competitive reelection campaign of her career against House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in a race that also features independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn. She is also one of two Republican senators opposing a pre-election confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
The Maine senator joined Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, the only Black Republican senator, in criticizing the president’s remarks on Wednesday. Scott told reporters in Washington he thought Trump had misspoke and asked him to correct the record, NBC News reported.
“If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak,” Scott said.
Asked about white supremacists on Wednesday, Trump told reporters that “any form of any of that, you have to denounce,” ABC News reported. He denied knowing who the Proud Boys were but said they should “stand down” and “let law enforcement do their work.”
Gideon, who has narrowly led Collins in polling this year, accused Trump of sowing “hatred and division” in a Wednesday statement, reiterating her support for Biden and criticizing the Republican senator for declining to say who she supports for president.