After Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer laid into Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville over the former football coach's inability to declare that white nationalists are racists, Tuberville relented Tuesday and allowed that they are -- though he said he will not apologize.
Tuberville had stumbled over the white nationalist definition back in May, but given a chance to clarify Monday night on CNN, he did not, saying that some people's definition is that white nationalists are racists. “My opinion of a White nationalist, if someone wants to call them White nationalist, to me is an American," he said.
Tuesday, he gave reporters equivocal answers earlier in the day, but finally offered clarity after emerging from a weekly lunch with Republican colleagues when reporters told him Schumer declared on the floor of the Senate earlier that Tuberville should apologize.
"No. He needs to apologize," Tuberville said. But asked to clarify his definition as he got in the elevator to leave, Tuberville said, "White nationalists are racists."
His snapback at Schumer suggests his change of thought came more from whatever his GOP colleagues told him. It has not been so hard for other Republicans to define or condemn white nationalists.
Also speaking to reporters shortly after the GOP lunch, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell didn't address questions about Tuberville directly, but did declare, “White supremacy is simply unacceptable in our military and in our entire country.”
Earlier in the day, Schumer had devoted a portion of his opening remarks on the Senate floor to criticize Tuberville as giving cover to racists by suggesting the definition of white nationalism was up for debate.
Schumer pointed to specific recent horrors perpetrated by white nationalists, including the murders of 23 people in El Paso, Texas; the killings of 10 people at a market in Buffalo, and the infamous march on Charlottesville, Va., where white nationalists chanted, "Jews will not replace us," and one ran over a counter protester.
"This isn’t a joke. This is deadly serious stuff," Schumer said. "For a member of the United States Senate to speculate about what white nationalism means as if it’s some benign little thought experiment is deeply and terribly disturbing. I urge my Republican colleagues to impress upon the Senator from Alabama the destructive impact of his words and urge him to apologize."
Here are all of Schumer's remarks:
For the past few months, the Senior Senator from Alabama has embarked on a one-man mission to excuse and even defend the meaning of white nationalism.
He did it back in May, when he bemoaned efforts in our military to root out dangerous white nationalism from our ranks. “I call them Americans.” Those were his words. His words.
A week later, he was asked to clarify his comments, and here’s how he replied: “what is a white nationalist?”
You’d think he’d learn from the overwhelmingly negative reaction he’s received from one end of the country to the other, that he would learn from that reaction and maybe modify his comments, but no.
Last night, given another chance to clear the air, he suggested that no, white nationalists aren’t inherently racist, that yes, white nationalism is American, and that the definition of white nationalism is a matter of opinion.
It’s hard to believe that the Senator from Alabama has to be corrected again. The Senator from Alabama is wrong, wrong, wrong: the definition of white nationalism is not a matter of opinion. White nationalism – the ideology that one race is inherently superior to others, that people of color should be segregated, subjected, and relegated to second-class citizenship – is racist down to its rotten core.
And for the Senator from Alabama to obscure the racist nature of white nationalism is indeed very, very dangerous. His words have power and carry weight with the fringe of his constituency, just the fringe, but if that fringe listens to him excuse and defend white nationalism, he is fanning the flames of bigotry and intolerance.
Last week, the gunman who killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart was sentenced to 90 life terms in prison. He was a self-described white nationalist.
The man who murdered ten people at a Tops Supermarket in my home state of New York in Buffalo was a white nationalist.
And if those examples aren’t clear enough, let us not forget Charlottesville, where neo-fascists, alt-right radicals, and far-right militias paraded through the streets, carrying torches and chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Those were white nationalists.
This isn’t a joke. This is deadly serious stuff. And for a member of the United States Senate to speculate about what white nationalism means as if it’s some benign little thought experiment is deeply and terribly disturbing. I urge my Republican colleagues to impress upon the Senator from Alabama the destructive impact of his words and urge him to apologize.