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Lee criticizes Trump's remarks on Charlottesville; Hatch urges president to be careful with statements

FILE - Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah greet on election night in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014.
FILE - Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah greet on election night in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Republican leaders criticized President Donald Trump on Wednesday for insisting "there is blame on both sides" following the deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"Carrying a Nazi flag or any other symbol of white supremacy is a hateful act that cannot be morally defended, least of all by the leader of a diverse nation still healing from its original sin of racist slavery," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, posted on Facebook.

"Racists may have a constitutional right to express their repugnant ideas. But the rest of us have a duty to affirm and defend the values — the moral, political and religious values — that have helped Americans overcome violent racism at home and abroad, in war and in peace, for generations," Lee said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called Trump on Wednesday to urge him to be more careful with his statements and focus on unifying and bringing the country together.

Hatch, who has been hesitant to criticize the president, tweeted Tuesday: "We should never hesitate to speak out against hate — whenever and wherever we see it."

The president's response to the events in Charlottesville has drawn criticism at home, including from top Republican lawmakers, and abroad.

"When I heard about what was happening in Charlottesville, I knew how I felt. I didn’t have to wait for a president to tell me how to respond," Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said in a statement Wednesday.

Racism of any kind is wrong and should be condemned, she said, whether it’s from extremists, white supremacists or hate groups of any kind.

"The only way we’re going to combat this is to stand together and drown out the hatred with civility, love and American unity," Love said.

Trump's latest remarks came after his more deliberate statement Monday. Reading from prepared remarks, he said then that "racism is evil" and branded members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as "criminals and thugs."

During an impromptu news conference Tuesday, Trump seemed to undo what he said the day before.

The president praised his own controversial statement, then angrily blamed liberal groups in addition to white supremacists for the Charlottesville violence. Some of those protesting the rally to save a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee were "also very violent," he said.

"There are two sides to a story," Trump said, adding that some facts about the violence in Charlottesville still aren't known.

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney tweeted, "No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes."

Boyd Matheson, president of the Sutherland Institute, said Trump's remarks the past few days are a critical point in his presidency. What's lacking most, he said, is any call to action for the American people.

"In these critical moments, great leaders call the American people to something, even if it's just a call to the principle of freedom," Matheson said. "The president hasn’t done anything even close to that in the last couple of days."

Trump can go through the "mental gymnastics" that those protesting the rally showed up without a permit and were aggressive, but he's missing the point, he said.

"The reality is we need to call out hate wherever we see it and not justify any of it," Matheson said. "This is one of the clear indications that he doesn't have a White House that’s functioning properly."

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, posted a series of tweets Wednesday on Charlottesville but did not address the president's comments directly.

"Let us not mince words. We must condemn the violence, hate, racism and bigotry shown by these neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups," he tweeted.

Stewart tweeted that Americans "must stand united for equality of all and oppose intolerance, racism and bigotry."

The "evil" that took the life of Heather Heyer during the rally is "abhorrent," Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said in a statement.

"I denounce violence of any kind, and call on parents to teach their children that racism and bigotry are loathsome practices," he said, adding he's praying for the families of Heyer and the two Virginia state troopers who died.