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Trump Didn't Get First Charlottesville Remarks Right, Rep. Cole Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's hear the voice now. I have a Republican lawmaker. It's Congressman Tom Cole of the state of Oklahoma who's on the line with us. Congressman, thanks, as always, for joining us. We appreciate it.

TOM COLE: David, thank you.

GREENE: Can you understand why these CEOs don't want to work with President Trump anymore?

COLE: Well, there's quite a bit of reaction to this. Obviously, people feel very strongly. And the president didn't get it right on Saturday. I think the fact that we saw a second statement suggests that they understand that. And the second one was clearly much better than the first, but not on target. So, you know, these are businesspeople that, for a variety of reasons, some of them personal - and in some cases - I'm sure that's was the case with Mr. Frazier.

Others of them may be making a business calculation that this is too divisive and, look, they don't want to alienate anybody in the marketplace. I don't know. I mean, each of them has to speak for themselves. But I suspect there were a variety of motives for their decision.

GREENE: You said the president didn't get it right at first. Can you explain why you think he waited so long? Is there anything that might explain why he didn't want to call out these groups specifically?

COLE: Well, frankly, I think you have to remember what he did say. And he gets some credit for that. He condemned the violence. He also condemned racism and bigotry in all forms. He also got things moving in the sense that he had Homeland Security people headed down there, a Justice Department investigation underway.

But you - in this case like this, when you're talking about elements like the Klu Klux Klan, and neo-Nazi groups and the white supremacists, you do have to be specific because that's just not acceptable behavior. And the country's come a long way from the 1960s. It really has - in the right direction. And but we still clearly have a ways to go. But, you know, again, I think specificity was the real, you know, omission here.

GREENE: You were secretary of state for Oklahoma - right? - when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in '95.

COLE: I was.

GREENE: I mean, he took inspiration from the white identity movement. I just wonder, personally, are you worried to see that movement gaining strength right now?

COLE: I'm worried anytime, you know, you see racism or anything like that happen. On the other hand, again, I'm old enough to remember, you know, the deliberate attack on a church in Birmingham that resulted in the death of young girls. And I remember the murder of Freedom Riders and, frankly, juries that wouldn't acquit.

So I don't think we're anywhere near that. And, frankly, I think the country, again, has broadly moved in the right direction. But, again, doesn't mean we don't have problems. We saw them on Saturday. Doesn't mean that they shouldn't be confronted. They should.

GREENE: Congressman, there is one narrative that, you know, the president has Steve Bannon, you know, Breitbart News connection - once describing Breitbart as a, quote, "platform for the so-called alt-right" - that losing him in the White House, for example, would be politically risky for the president because that movement is, albeit small, important to him and his political support. And this is, of course, within the Republican Party. Do you buy into that narrative? Does that sound accurate to you?

COLE: No, I don't. Frankly, I don't know Mr. Bannon so - and I certainly don't know, what, if any, role he had in the events that transpired. So I'm not going to condemn a guy I don't know, and I'm not even sure what he did. But I don't - the Republican Party is a whole lot bigger than that. And people can be hired and fired pretty easily in any White House. I don't see any indispensable figure around the president and...

GREENE: Do you want Bannon out?

COLE: Look, I don't know him. As I said, I've never met him. I don't - I'll leave the personnel decision in the White House to the president of the United States. I'm pretty pleased with John Kelly. So, again...

GREENE: Chief of staff.

COLE: I don't think that's for me to say. But I don't think that Breitbart constitutes the Republican Party or the conservative movement.

GREENE: Speaking to Congressman Tom Cole, Republican from the state of Oklahoma and a frequent guest on our program - Congressman, thanks for the time. We appreciate it.

COLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.