Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended American values on Sunday after a UN panel criticized the official response to racist violence but conspicuously declined to speak for President Donald Trump.
Trump triggered outrage earlier this month when he suggested both sides were at fault after unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a woman was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counter-protestors.
The president went on to say there were “very fine people” on “both sides” of the protest, which began when torch-bearing young men in neo-Nazi regalia gathered to protect a statue of a Confederate general.
Trump’s response was celebrated in white nationalist circles, but drew criticism from across the mainstream political spectrum and — with the intervention of a UN anti-racism committee from around the world.
Asked on Fox News Sunday whether Trump’s stance had made it harder for Washington’s top diplomat to promote US values around the world, Tillerson spoke for his State Department.
“We represent the American people, their commitment to freedom and to equal treatment to people the world over, and that message has never changed,” he said.
Pressed on whether Trump had undermined that message, Tillerson said: “I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values or the commitment of the American government or the government’s agencies to advancing those values and defending those values.”
Interviewer Chris Wallace then gave him another chance to defend Trump, asking: “And the president’s values?”
“The president speaks for himself, Chris,” Tillerson replied.
“Are you separating yourself from that, sir?” Wallace persisted.
To which Tillerson replied: “I gave my own comments on our values as well in the speech I gave at the State Department last week.”