WASHINGTON – Congress sent a resolution to the White House on Tuesday condemning the violence at the white nationalist rally in Virginia last month and urging President Trump to speak out against racist hate groups.
The legislation, which passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on Monday and in the House on Tuesday, will be presented to Trump for his signature in an effort by lawmakers to secure a more forceful denunciation of racist extremism from the president.
Trump was roundly criticized by lawmakers of both parties last month after he blamed “both sides” for the Aug. 12 violence that resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, as well as his suggestion that some “very fine people” were among the white-nationalist marchers.
The text of the resolution was negotiated on a bipartisan basis by the members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, overcoming early differences between Republicans and Democrats about how to characterize the events in Charlottesville and whether to explicitly criticize Trump’s response.
It calls Heyer’s killing a “domestic terrorist attack” and denounces “White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups” but does not single out left-wing counterprotesting groups such as Antifa for equivalent opprobrium in the way Trump did.
The authors of the legislation purposefully introduced it as a joint resolution, which is sent for a president’s signature, rather than as a simple or concurrent resolution, which are not.
The House version was introduced by Reps. Thomas Garrett (R., Va.) and Gerald Connolly (D., Va.), and cosponsored by the other members of the Virginia House delegation. The Senate version was introduced by Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. The resolution passed both chambers without debate.
“The first thing it’s going to do is give some real comfort for these families,” Kaine said Tuesday, referring to the deaths of Heyer and two Virginia State Police troopers who had been patrolling the rally in a helicopter that later crashed.
“No. 2, I think it’s great for [Democrats and Republicans] to be able to make a moral call that white supremacy’s not acceptable, and I want the president to have to sign it,” he added. “We wouldn’t have had to add in that point had he not demonstrated this moral equivocation at the time, but I think it would be a really good thing.”
The resolution calls on Trump to “speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and White supremacy” and also “use all resources available to the President and the President’s Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States.”
It also calls on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “investigate thoroughly all acts of violence, intimidation, and domestic terrorism by white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and associated groups” and to “improve the reporting of hate crimes” to the FBI.
A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening on whether Trump intends to sign the resolution.
During the August recess, Virginia’s House delegation was split over who was to blame for the deadly clashes and whether to criticize Trump’s initial failure to denounce hate groups by name.
Draft language circulated by Garrett’s office and reviewed by the Washington Post suggested that both “white supremacists and neo-Nazis, from across many states” and “counter protesters” had “engaged in acts of violence.” The resolution also said the House strongly condemns racism, as well as “intimidation, and violence by all groups – regardless of their political affiliation or political motivation.”
Connolly suggested adding that Heyer was “a victim of domestic terrorism” who lost her life while “protesting against hate groups,” according to language reviewed by the Post. He also proposed noting that Trump “failed to condemn white supremacists and erroneously blamed ‘both sides’ for the violence.”
That was a deal-breaker for Republicans, and negotiations fell apart only to be revived last week when Warner and Kaine offered their own resolution with bipartisan support.
Connolly and a Garrett aide declined to comment on the process of drafting the resolution.
In a statement Tuesday, Connelly said the House “spoke in one unified voice to unequivocally condemn the shameful and hate-filled acts of violence” carried out by the white nationalists.
“I hope this bipartisan action will help heal the wounds left in the aftermath of this tragedy and send a clear message to those that seek to divide our country that there is no place for hate and violence,” he said.