House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended President Donald Trump’s approach to race relations amid accusations that the president has fueled discord with his attacks on peacefully protesting football players and officials trying to help the millions of Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria.
“Like I said before, he’s learning,” Ryan said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, when asked by host John Dickerson to rate Trump’s ability to bring the U.S. together.
“I know his heart’s in the right place,” Ryan added.
As evidence, he cited “some very candid conversations” ― particularly around the time of the clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, when Trump said a white supremacist-dominated group rallying to defend a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee included some “very fine people.” The president offered ambiguous remarks about what happened in Charlottesville and who was to blame, which some in the racist movement said emboldened them further.
Trump had both “bad” reactions and then “good” ones to the Charlottesville violence, Ryan said.
“I think what matters is that we have to show people that we are an inclusive society” and that “we want everyone to succeed,” the speaker said. “And I think there’s more that all of us as leaders have got to do to be inclusive with people and make people feel like they’re included in society. ... We’ve got a lot, a long ways to go, just as a society and a country for that.”
Since the events in Charlottesville, Trump has said any athlete protesting institutionalized racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem is a “son of a bitch” who should be thrown off the field; instituted a new version of his Muslim ban; and said Puerto Rico’s leadership features “politically motivated ingrates” ― a far cry from his comments about the way officials in Texas and Florida responded to recent hurricanes.
The president has a history of targeting people of color. He attracted federal scrutiny early in his businesscareer over reports of racial barriers to entry in his housing complexes. He spent years questioning the citizenship of America’s first black president and launched his presidential campaign by attacking Mexicans.
Dickerson pressed Ryan on Trump’s response to the NFL protests, noting that the president has not mentioned why the players feel it’s necessary to use their national visibility this way.
The speaker didn’t dispute that Trump has failed to do so.
“But I do think he’s got a point which is, what I think a lot of people who are protesting on that don’t necessarily see is that other people see it as disrespecting the country, what it stands for, the flag and the people who died to protect it,” Ryan said. “I think we should just have separate and distinct conversations. Because when you merge it into the flag and the anthem, it’s lost.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.