MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday refused to directly criticize President Donald Trump's comments equating white supremacists with counter-protesters at a Virginia rally, taking a softer stance than other fellow Republicans in Wisconsin.
Walker repeated to reporters that he was denouncing hate and bigotry displayed by white supremacists and anyone else, but he did not directly address questions about Trump's remarks that have drawn broad bipartisan condemnation across the state and country.
"My comment on this is: I denounce the bigotry and hatred, and I'll let the president and his team speak for him," Walker said when asked if he thought Trump was racist.
Trump said that there were "fine people" among the white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis who took to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, and that "both sides" were to blame for the deadly violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters. A 32-year-old woman died when a car plowed into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally. A 20-year-old man described as an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany has been charged with second-degree murder.
Some of Trump's harshest Republican critics in Wisconsin were freshman U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a former Marine from Green Bay, and state Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke.
"The president needs to be crystal clear that hatred has no place in our society, but he is currently failing," Gallagher said.
Steineke denounced Trump for twice saying "both sides" shared the blame for violence at the rally where the woman was killed.
"When you see evil, you have to condemn it and do it in no uncertain terms," Steineke said. "I don't believe (white supremacists) have any place in any political party and we shouldn't legitimize their views by making a moral equivalent argument."
Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson told reporters Wednesday he was "not entirely" comfortable with Trump's comments, but wanted to move on. Johnson called the comments a distraction from Trump's broader agenda, including tax reform, and that he wishes the president would focus more on unifying the country.
But Johnson also said he did not think the remarks indicate Trump is unfit for office. Johnson said "I see no grounds" for impeachment.
"The American people elected Donald Trump and I'm not sure he's changed much from what he was during the campaign," said Johnson, who was an early and vocal supporter.
Asked if he thought Trump was a racist, Johnson said: "I don't think so."
When pressed why, he grew testy: "Because I just don't think so. ... I think we've covered this one well enough."
Walker said he wasn't going to measure Trump's effectiveness as president "on a particular day or comment."
"I look at where the Trump administration is going in terms of the things they are doing on policy and the impact it has on the citizens of Wisconsin," Walker said. "Would I occasionally like the president to do or say things slightly different than he does? Of course. I don't think that's unheard of."
House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted Tuesday that "white supremacy is repulsive," but did not specifically address the president's comments. Ryan's Democratic opponent, Randy Bryce, called for him to censure Trump.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, who represents Milwaukee and is the state's only African-American in Congress, urged Republicans to work together to remove Trump from office.
Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, who represents Madison and south-central Wisconsin, raised impeachment as a possibility in a statement from his office that said he "never imagined that he would have to ask the President of the United States to clarify his stance on neo-Nazis."
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who faces a tough re-election next year, said Trump "has clearly failed the moral test of seeing right from wrong."