WASHINGTON (CN) — Senator Lindsey Graham shrugged off President Donald Trump telling the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, to “stand back and stand by,” during a Thursday Senate committee meeting where his Democratic colleagues raised alarm.
Trump’s comment came during Tuesday’s debate when he refused to condemn white supremacists and militia groups.
“The Proud Boys—nothing to be proud about,” Graham said during Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.
Democrats called for a hearing on the threat of white supremacy in America, asking Graham, who chairs the committee, to schedule it before the November election.
While he did not straight out deny the request, Graham, R-S.C., said the committee has held hearings in the past on white supremacy.
Over the last month, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have increasingly stressed the threat of white supremacists is growing. Trump’s FBI Director Christopher Wray just last month told Congress that “the most lethal of all domestic extremists” are racially and ethnically motivated.
Wray also said the anti-fascist movement, or antifa, is an ideology, not an organization, an argument made by former Vice President Joe Biden in the debate and mocked by Trump.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed Thursday that Trump did denounce white supremacy during the debate, arguing his record is clear on the matter.
“He did not misspeak,” she told reporters.
Democrats used the bulk of Thursday’s meeting to challenge Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died two weeks ago.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., led off with her caucus’s loudest warning in the face of Barrett’s expected confirmation, arguing the health care of millions of Americans is on the line.
“The president has promised to only appoint justices who will overturn the Affordable Care Act and roll back protections for those with preexisting conditions. That is a very big deal,” the ranking member said.
Barrett has staunchly opposed the Affordable Care Act, writing in 2017 that Chief Justice John Roberts had pushed the health care law known as Obamacare “beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”
Feinstein cautioned her GOP colleagues to consider that the Supreme Court will take up the ACA just one week after Election Day.
Overturning the landmark legislation will imperil 135 million non-elderly Americans with preexisting conditions and the 12 million individuals who gained coverage when the ACA expanded Medicaid, the senator argued.
“President Trump and his allies again seek to use the courts to do what they have failed to do in the Congress,” Feinstein said.
Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, called her claim outrageous.
“This suggestion that somehow a Supreme Court nomination is made for the purpose of a particular outcome in a future case is again just a wildly fantastic leap and I think totally inconsistent with both the character and the record of this judge,” Cornyn said.
But Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., argued in defense that Feinstein was “outrageously correct,” followed by Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., saying he stood behind “every word she’s uttered.”
Durbin argued Trump has never made a guarded comment.
He pointed to the president’s tweet back in June 2015, 10 days after announcing his candidacy for the 2016 election, promising: “If I win the presidency, my judicial appointments will do the right thing unlike [former Republican President George W.] Bush’s appointee John Roberts on ObamaCare.”
“He publishes everything,” Durbin said. “Tweets it every single day. We know what’s flowing through that fertile mind. And he’s made it clear what this is all about.”