ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that National Football League team owners are “afraid of their players” when it comes to players protesting by kneeling during the national anthem, sparking criticism that the comments amounted to a racial dog whistle.
“I have so many friends that are owners. They are in a box. I have spoken to a couple of them. They say we are in a situation where we have to do something. I think they’re afraid of their players, you want to know the truth. I think it’s disgraceful. And they’ve got to be tough and they’ve got to be smart,” Trump said in an interview that aired on Fox News Thursday morning.
The president’s comment is receiving swift backlash.
ESPN’s Jemele Hill, who the White House argued should be fired after she tweeted Trump is a white supremacist, said on Twitter that Trump’s comments are “peak racial demagoguery.”
On Twitter Tuesday, Trump suggested that the NFL “set a rule” that players can not kneel during the national anthem.
After Trump called for players who kneel during the national anthem to be fired, several NFL owners stood in solidarity on Sunday as players knelt or linked arms during the national anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love one of the NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a b—- off the field right now?’” Trump told the crowd at a campaign rally
Trump also said he has still has confidence in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even after the Senate failed to rally enough support for the Graham-Cassidy bill, Republicans’ latest health care proposal that would have repealed Obamacare.
“I have dealt with Mitch for a long time,” Trump said.
“I think he has to get rid of the filibuster rule,” Trump argued that McConnell needs to of the Senate rule for a 60-vote majority needed to pass legislation, adding that it’s a “disaster for the Republican party.”
While he expresses confidence in getting healthcare done early next year, the president says that in the meantime he will negotiate with the Democrats and is open to a bipartisan deal to reform healthcare.
Asked if he trusts Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the president says it’s not a matter of trust but that he does have a “nice relationship with them.”
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