Michael Surbaugh, the chief scout executive for the Boy Scouts of America, was forced to apologize Thursday for President Trump’s address at the group’s annual jamboree, a rambling, campaign-style speech in which he recounted his election victory and advocated for the repeal of Obamacare.
In a letter to the “Scouting Family” and posted on the Scoutingwire website, Surbaugh apologized to those “who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree.” He explained that the invitation extended Trump to speak at the event was “in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies,” but instead part of a long-standing tradition of welcoming the current commander in chief to the jamboree. He added that the organization had a history of nonpartisanship.
Trump appeared at the West Virginia event Monday and raised eyebrows with a heavily partisan performance that included a dig at his predecessor: “By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a jamboree? … The answer is no. But we’ll be back.”
Among other things, he discussed the economy, the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare, his electoral victory, and his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington — after saying he wasn’t going to give a political speech: “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts? Right?”
Surbaugh’s apology marked a reversal of the organization’s original response to the backlash. Tuesday, the Boy Scouts of America issued a statement defending Trump’s appearance, noting that the sitting president traditionally serves as the organization’s honorary president. The actual president of Boy Scouts of America, Randall Stephenson, told the AP Wednesday that organization leaders anticipated a political, potentially controversial performance, but decided to invite Trump anyway.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked at the Thursday press briefing if, in the wake of Surbaugh’s apology, Trump owed the organization a mea culpa as well. Acknowledging she hadn’t yet seen the letter, Sanders cited the enthusiasm of the scouts as proof of Trump’s appropriateness at the event.
“I was at the event and I saw nothing but 40 to 45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks and I think they were pretty excited that he was there and happy to hear him speak to them,” she said.
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