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The Hill’s Campaign Report: Team Trump on defense over president’s comments on white supremacy

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Welcome to The Hill’s Campaign Report, your daily rundown on all the latest news in the 2020 presidential, Senate and House races. Did someone forward this to you? Click here to subscribe.

We’re Julia Manchester, Max Greenwood and Jonathan Easley. Here’s what we’re watching today on the campaign trail: 

LEADING THE DAY: 

The White House is on defense. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany faced off with reporters over President Trump’s recent comments on white supremacist groups. The White House argues that the president has denounced hate groups on a number of occasions. 

“This has been answered yesterday by the president himself, the day before by the president himself on the debate stage. The president was asked this. He said ‘sure’ three times,” McEnany told Fox News’s John Roberts after he asked her for a “definitive and declarative statement” that Trump denounces white supremacy.

CBS’s Paula Reid and McEnany got into a heated exchange over the matter when Reid asked about Trump’s “mixed” record on it. 

“It is quite funny that the media goes haywire about interrupting in debates and then chooses to pursue that very same tactic themselves,” McEnany said. “This is a White House briefing. You ask a question, and you give me time to answer.”

Meanwhile, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked why the far-right group known as the Proud Boys would rejoice at Trump’s call to “stand back and stand by” during Tuesday’s debate. McEnany responded, claiming “stand back” was a synonym for “stand down” and called the question a “partisan attack.” 

The tense briefing comes as a number of Republicans have distanced themselves from Trump’s failure to outright denounce the ideology when given the chance to in Cleveland on Tuesday. 

Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only Black Republican in the Senate, said he believed Trump “misspoke” and that he should correct the comment, while South Dakota GOP Sen. Mike Rounds said Trump should have been more clear. Frequent Trump critic Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said Trump should “of course” call out the extremist groups and ideology. 

The bottom line is Republicans don’t want to be talking about this problem, which has dogged the president throughout his presidency. Trump has a mixed record, sometimes denouncing white supremacists and hate groups, but other times appearing to offer them cover. 

This is all happening less than 24 hours after Trump attacked progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn,), who came to the U.S. as a Somali refugee, at a campaign rally in Duluth, Minn., and warned rallygoers about allowing more refugees into the state. 

“Another massive issue for Minnesota is the election of Joe Biden’s plan to inundate your state with a historic flood of refugees,” Trump said. “Congratulations, Minnesota. Congratulations. No.”

The developments all open up a line of attack for Democrats, and block Republicans from focusing on policy issues. 

READ MORE: McEnany defends Trump comments on white supremacy at combative briefing, by Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant 

A DEBATE OVER THE DEBATE RULES 

Trump and Republicans are continuing to push back on any changes to the future presidential debate structure after Tuesday’s debate in Cleveland devolved into chaos. 

“Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?” Trump said in a Thursday afternoon tweet. 

Earlier in the day, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the Commission on Presidential Debates should not make any changes or adjustments without the approval of both campaigns, adding that the rules shouldn’t be changed “in the middle of the campaign.”

The commission said in a statement on Wednesday that it would consider structural changes to future forums this campaign cycle. 

“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” the statement said. “The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.”

READ MORE: RNC, Trump campaign push back on changing debate rules, by Morgan Chalfant 

POLL WATCH:

Speaking of debates, former Vice President Joe Biden is leading Trump by 13 points following the first presidential debate, according to a new CNBC/Change Research survey.

Biden leads with 54 percent support, while Trump trails with 41 percent. Additionally, 53 percent of likely voters said they thought Biden performed better than Trump. Only 29 percent of likely voters said they thought Trump performed better than Biden. 

The same poll showed 45 percent of respondents saying Trump underperformed and 11 percent saying Biden did worse than expected. 

The majority of respondents were in agreement when it came to their perception of the debate. A whopping 77 percent said that it did not make them feel proud to be an American. 

Tags Donald Trump Ilhan Omar Joe Biden Mike Rounds Mitt Romney Ronna McDaniel Tim Scott

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