Powell takes on Trump over Confederate flag

Retired Gen. Colin PowellColin Luther PowellSinking Trump seeks to squash GOP dissent Powell said he supports push to rename Army bases named after Confederate leaders ICE reversal: part push to reopen schools, part hardline immigration policy MORE took on President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE over the president’s defense of the Confederate flag on Thursday, saying, “Doesn’t he have more important things to do?”

Powell, who served as former President George W. Bush’s secretary of State, told MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” that he doesn’t know why Trump is “fooling around” with comments on the Confederate flag and NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace. 

“I don’t know why he does this,” Powell said. “Doesn’t he have more important things to do? I mean, why is he fooling around with NASCAR and a flag?”

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The former secretary of State said Mississippi’s efforts to change its flag, which includes a Confederate emblem, is “no business of the president.”

“It’s called state rights,” he said. “It’s their flag, not his flag.”

Powell, who voted for Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump vows challenge to Nevada bill expanding mail-in voting Biden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman Juan Williams: The Trump Show grows tired MORE in 2016 and says he will vote for former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump campaign emails supporters encouraging mask-wearing: 'We have nothing to lose' Cuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks MORE this fall, also said it was “quite appropriate” for military leadership to look at renaming the Army bases named after Confederate leaders, saying the names “mean something now that they didn't mean all those years before.” 

“The president should keep out of it and let the military figure out what the right thing is to do,” the retired general said.

“We have a president who goes out of his way to keep us from moving forward,” he said. “But we’re moving forward without his blessing because the people of the United States of America know what is right.”

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Powell’s comments come after the president defended the Confederate flag as “freedom of speech” earlier this week, while saying it is “up to” NASCAR to decide whether to allow the flag at races. 

A day earlier, the president had criticized NASCAR on Twitter for its decision to ban the Confederate flag on its properties. 

Trump also targeted Wallace, one of NASCAR’s top Black stars, about two weeks after a noose was found in his garage stall, falsely calling the situation a “hoax.” Investigators determined the noose had been in the stall for months and did not target the driver. 

The president has positioned himself against renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders, threatening to veto a defense policy bill if it includes an amendment for renaming.

The recent push for removing Confederate symbols comes after George Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis police custody in May, prompting wide-scale protests.