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ND, Minnesota politicians criticize Trump's 'woefully inadequate' Charlottesville remarks

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) speaks next to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) at a news conference with a bipartisan group of senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., to unveil a compromise proposal on gun control measures, June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

BISMARCK—Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., criticized President Donald Trump's initial response to the weekend's rally and violence in Virginia on Monday as "woefully inadequate."

Her remarks join a chorus of voices from both parties saying Trump should have been clearer sooner about racists' place in America.

Heitkamp's remarks come after a Saturday demonstration in Charlottesville, where white supremacists clashed with counter-protesters. Dozens of people suffered injuries, including many inflicted when a man drove his car into a crowd, killing a protester.

On Saturday, Trump condemned an "egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides." His statement failed to condemn white supremacy and left some critics wondering if the omission was made out of intentional deference to hate groups who have supported Trump.

Heitkamp did not speculate why Trump was not more precise, but said many senior Republicans quickly and specifically condemned white supremacy.

"It was very much a missed opportunity to be unifying against right-wing hate groups," she said.

On Monday, Trump offered additional remarks in which he said that "racism is evil" and specifically condemned "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups,"

Heitkamp called those comments "better late than never."

Many North Dakota politicians have been unified in their rejection of the Charlottesville rally and the violence that followed. Over the weekend, Heitkamp issued a brief twitter statement condemning neo-Nazis and the KKK, adding that "love is stronger & must persevere." Gov. Doug Burgum tweeted that "hate is not an American value." Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., also spoke out against the rally and violence Saturday.

"The rally among the white supremacist groups is wrong on every level, even if it's legal and constitutional," Cramer said. "It's rallying for the wrong things."

Minnesota politicians took the same stance. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., tweeted in opposition of the "racism" unfolding in Virginia on Saturday morning, while Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., called the scene "vile."

"Hatred and bigotry associated with the white supremacists, neo Nazis and the KKK has no place in our society," Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in a statement.

But the question of Trump's early remarks still appears unsettled.

"It exhausts me that people would sort of parse and dissect Donald Trump's words and try to extrapolate his heart because he didn't say the exact thing he wanted them to say," Cramer said, responding to claims that the president's Saturday statement was a calculated play for racists' votes. "His words, coming right out of the event were very, very strong. ... This is a guy that has black people work for him, right next to him."

Hoeven was critical of the president. He said speculation that Trump's remarks were calculated show exactly why the president should have been clearer sooner.

"That's something he should have done right away," Hoeven said. "He did come out today and denounce them, that's good—clearly he should have done that on Saturday when he commented on the matter."

North Dakota Democratic-NPL Chairwoman Kylie Oversen criticized Cramer and Hoeven for not issuing public statement sooner. Both men called the comments a political ploy.

"It's too bad she's always so anxious to play politics," Hoeven said. "North Dakotans of both parties know we condemn this kind of bigotry."

Forum Communications Co. Reporter John Hageman contributed to this report.

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

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