WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump on Thursday denounced the removal of monuments to Confederate figures as “foolish,” days after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee led to the death of a counterprotester and the injury of 19 others.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”
Trump’s tweets came as he continued to face criticism for comments he made on Tuesday in which he blamed “both sides” of the Charlottesville protests — the white supremacists and those protesting against them — for the violence in the streets of the city that was home to Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
While Trump condemned the neo-Nazi and white supremacists who protested, he insisted there were “very fine people” among those protesting the removal of Lee’s statue in Charlottesville.
One of the rally’s highest-profile attendees, ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, also weighed in on the removal of Confederate monuments Thursday, tweeting, “I’m sure (((progressives))) will stop after removing Confederate monuments – don’t worry guys,” using the triple parentheses that white nationalists and the far-right use to identify the names of Jewish people.
The push to remove Confederate monuments has regained momentum in the days since the rally, with Baltimore removing four statues from public spaces in the early morning hours on Wednesday.
Trump’s tweets on the issue came minutes after the president blasted two Republican senators on Twitter on Thursday morning, sparking yet another feud with lawmakers from his own party.
Trump first went after South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who on Wednesday criticized the president for saying at a Tuesday press conference that counterprotesters were in part responsible for the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
In the statement, Graham said Trump “took a step backward” with the comments, which Graham said suggested “a moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally” and counterprotesters like Heather Heyer, the woman who died when an Ohio man with ties to white supremacist groups allegedly drove a car into a crowd at the rally.
“I, along with many others, do not endorse this moral equivalency,” Graham said in the statement.
Trump took exception to Graham’s criticism, calling the statement “a disgusting lie” and suggesting Graham was only speaking out because he lost to Trump in the Republican primaries.
“Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is a moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists and people like Ms. Heyer,” Trump said in two tweets Thursday morning. “Such a disgusting lie. He can’t forget his election trouncing. The people of South Carolina will remember.”
Critics on both sides of the aisle have come out against Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, especially after the president held a confrontational press conference on Tuesday when he suggested the “alt-left” was partially to blame for the conflict and claimed there were good people among the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who organized the rally.
A CBS poll released on Thursday found more than half of Americans disapprove of Trump’s response to the Charlottesville attack.
Trump later went after Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who at the end of last month published a book that was strikingly critical of the president. Flake said Republicans were showing “tremendous powers of denial” in accepting Trump and called for Congress to be more forceful in its opposition to the president.
“If this was our Faustian bargain, then it was not worth it,” Flake wrote in an excerpt of his book published by Politico. “If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?”
Trump praised Flake’s primary challenger, Dr. Kelli Ward, in a tweet on Thursday morning, calling Flake “toxic.”
“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate,” Trump tweeted. “He’s toxic!”
Flake and Graham have been among the most vocal critics of Trump in Congress and Flake is one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in the 2018 midterms, when the GOP hopes to hold its slim lead in the Senate.
Being a politician vocally opposed to his party’s sitting president might not carry with it the electoral repercussions that it typically would, given a Marist poll that found Trump’s approval rating at a new low of 35 percent, with only 79 percent of Republicans giving him a positive rating.
Trump’s criticism of Graham and Flake comes amid a war of words with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whom Trump has prodded for not being able to push through the party’s health care bill last month.
Graham defended himself from Trump’s attacks in a statement on Thursday morning, reminding the president “history is watching us all.”
“Mr. President, like most I seek to move our nation, my state and our party forward — toward the light — not back to the darkness,” Graham said in the statement. “Your tweet honoring Miss Heyer was very nice and appropriate. Well done. However, because of the manner in which you have handled the Charlottesville tragedy you are now receiving praise from some of the most racist and hate-filled individuals and groups in our country. For the sake of our nation – as our president – please fix this.”