WASHINGTON ― In an awkward interview, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the president of the United States doesn’t necessarily speak for the nation in expressing American values.
On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace noted that the United Nations had condemned President Donald Trump for not unequivocally condemning racism and asked Tillerson if Trump had made it more difficult to promote American values abroad.
“We express America’s values from the State Department,” Tillerson said. “We represent America’s values, our commitment to freedom, our commitment to equal treatment for people the world over, and that message has never changed.”
Wallace noted that the U.N.’s statement suggested world leaders are beginning to doubt whether the U.S. is living its own values.
“I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values or the commitment of the American government or the government’s agencies to advancing those values and defending those values,” Tillerson said.
What about the president’s values, Wallace asked.
“The president speaks for himself, Chris,” Tillerson said.
After a moment of silence, Wallace asked whether Tillerson was deliberately trying to separate himself from the president. Tillerson replied simply that he’d already made his own statement on his department promoting U.S. values.
Wallace’s questioning arose from the violence sparked in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month when neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other hate groups gathered to protest efforts to remove a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A 32-year-old woman was killed when a car allegedly driven by a white supremacist plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, and two on-duty Virginia state troopers died when their helicopter crashed on Charlottesville’s outskirts.
Trump, in a series of separate comments on what happened, condemned white supremacists but also blamed “both sides” and “many sides” for the violence. That opened him up to criticism that he wasn’t making a distinction between hate groups and counterprotesters. He also insisted during a raucous press conference that some “fine people” were among those joining the rally that had been organized by white supremacists.
In a statement last week, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was disturbed “by the failure at the highest political level of the United States of America to unequivocally reject and condemn the racist violent events and demonstrations.”