NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Wednesday had little problem labeling, as a "terrorist act," the deadly violence that erupted last weekend at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
But the Tennessee Republican repeatedly balked at wading into the ongoing controversy over remarks by President Donald Trump, who continues to blame not just Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other far-right groups, but also the counterprotesters for the melee in which, ultimately, a car plowed into a group of anti-racist counterprotesters, killing a 32-year-old woman.
"I did not see them [Trump's comments]," Corker told reporters in Knoxville after seeking to brush aside similar questions following a speech to the local Chamber of Commerce. "I don't see a lot of television, I apologize look, I respond in my own way.
"My comments are the ones I focus on and I think the media does a plenty good job and has plenty of panelists on and others giving editorial comment about other peoples' comments and mine," Corker said in a video posted by the Knoxville News Sentinel on its website.
Corker did make it abundantly clear what his own thoughts are. "Obviously, people have First Amendment rights — as long as they're peaceful," Corker said. "But to have someone who drives a car down the middle of a crowd — killing, maiming innocent people? In our nation, it is an act of terror and needs to be stopped."
He called the Charlottesville incident "despicable" and "repugnant. To have a young lady with a future in front [of her] that was mowed down by a vehicle is just terrible — it is terrorism. It's got to end. Our nation has citizens who are acting out in ways that are different than we've had in other times and it's got to end."
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., likewise
took aim. "Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, like any racists, tear apart the American character," Alexander said in a statement. "They deny that we are all Americans, without regard to race, creed or background."
The former governor recalled that when he was governor of Boys' State in 1957, he "called for outlawing the Ku Klux Klan, and as a student editor in 1962, I helped to desegregate Vanderbilt University.
"To open doors to
African-Americans, as governor, I appointed the first black Supreme Court Justice and the first black chancellor," Alexander said. "As president of the University of Tennessee, I appointed the first black UT vice-presidents."
Alexander said he will "continue to oppose those who would close doors to Americans based upon race, religion or background."
Still, despite a reporter's request for Alexander's thoughts on Trump's remarks, the senator's statement made no mention of that.
According to multiple news accounts, Trump told reporters Tuesday, "I think there is blame on both sides" in the events that took place Saturday in Charlottesville.
"You had a group on one side that was bad," Trump said. "You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I'll say it right now."
The president also called James Alex Fields Jr., 20, whom police have charged as the driver who plowed into the crowd killing Heather Heyer, "a disgrace to himself, his family and this country.
"You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want," Trump told reporters.