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Alabama senator says he can’t criticize Trump’s press conference because he was too busy to watch it

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Appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who came in second in Tuesday’s GOP primary, went on Fox News Wednesday to explain how he plans to win next month’s primary runoff against opponent and former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. But if he was expecting an easy interview from host Trish Regan, he was mistaken; Regan grilled him about his response to the president’s botched comments on the violent Charlottesville white nationalist protests, causing Strange to stumble.

Strange, who is running with President Donald Trump’s endorsement, opened the segment by highlighting his record in the Senate of “consistently supporting the president’s agenda” and of “can-do conservative accomplishments”, such as voting to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch and voting to repeal and replace Obamacare. 

Noting the widespread criticism of Trump’s comments — in which the president blamed both sides for the weekend’s racial attacks — Regan asked Strange how Trump’s challenges affected his own primary race. Strange responded by changing the subject to his support for Trump’s plans to build a border wall and change tax policy.

Regan then played a video clip of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) criticizing Trump’s repeated failure to unequivocally condemn the white nationalists for the attacks in Charlottesville, and asked if Strange agreed. Strange agreed that there was no place for “bigotry, racism, the KKK, and white supremacists.”

However, pressed on whether he specifically agreed with those criticizing Trump’s press conference on Tuesday, in which the president reiterated his stance and blamed counter-protesters for inciting violence, Gardner responded that he had been “tied up in the election” and “didn’t see the press conference.

He added that he “did agree with the [president’s] statements a couple days ago where he forcefully and condemned the KKK and these groups.”

Regan then offered to play him part of the video and noted that “by engaging the media as he did, he opened a kind of Pandora’s box.” But when asked if that had been a mistake, Strange responded, “I hate to second-guess it. I wasn’t there, didn’t see it. You know, the press likes to second-guess the president.”

Asked by ThinkProgress about Strange’s claim — that he hadn’t seen Trump’s Tuesday press conference — the Democratic nominee in that race, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, laughed and asked, “He really said that?”

“Look, I find that incredibly hard to believe,” he added. “It’s been the most dominant thing in the news. I was out campaigning. I was worried about a run-off. We didn’t have 7 or 8 million dollars that was spent on us, but we were out campaigning. I followed what the president said. I know exactly what he said. I saw his comments on Saturday and then 48 hours later I saw him read from a teleprompter in what appeared to be a somewhat insincere statement. And then I saw him yesterday being Donald Trump, just lashing out at the media, defending folks. It’s incredible that nobody saw it. You’ve got to wonder — if a sitting United States senator had not seen those comments, you’ve got to wonder what kind of job he is really doing.”

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