Updated 3:43 p.m. | White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest ripped House Republicans in the dispute over flying Confederate flags in federal cemeteries — tying it to the election of Rep. Steve Scalise as majority whip and the recent remarks by Donald Trump, though not by name.
Earnest first praised South Carolina’s legislature for voting to take down the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds.
“Republicans in Congress, however, seem to have values and priorities that lie elsewhere,” Earnest said.
Here’s his full comment:
“Right now, the Interior appropriations bill in the House is jammed up because a sizable number of House Republicans are eager to protect the status of the confederate flag on National Park Service grounds. These are the same House Republicans who voted for a party leader who once described himself as, quote, “David Duke without the baggage.” These are the same congressional Republicans who have declined to criticize the race-baiting rhetoric of a leading Republican presidential candidate.
That’s to say nothing of the Senate Republican who saluted that candidate.
So when you hear me say that congressional Republicans have an agenda that is out of step with the vast majority of Americans, this record at least in part is what I’m referring to.”
Earnest later called Trump “the leading” Republican presidential candidate, but again the word “Trump” never actually crossed his lips.
He later denied he was suggesting Republicans have a “race problem” but said their comments and actions will be evaluated by voters.
Earnest also said the White House supported the amendments that had passed earlier in the week that would eliminate federal funding to display Confederate flags in cemeteries and Confederate merchandise at gift shops.
Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, called Earnest’s attacks “childish.”
“Distorting fact to try and score cheap political points is no way to honor the victims of the horrific crime in Charleston,” he said in an email. “These childish attacks are completely dishonest, and beneath the dignity of the office of the presidency.”
Fritz said the amendment in question would have simply codified existing Obama administration policies restricting the use of the flag.
Boehner himself said he does not support flying the Confederate flag at congressional cemeteries, but Earnest said it’s notable Boehner is having a hard time convincing his flock of that position.