Following a night of violent protests in Portland that left one person dead, CNN State of the Union host Dana Bash repeatedly confronted Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on whether or not President Donald Trump’s increasingly divisive rhetoric was “inflaming” and “agitating” tensions in the country.
Highlighting the violence in Portland and the recent vigilante shootings in Kenosha, Bash kicked off her interview by recapping the president’s comments and tweets in which he called on the Portland mayor to resign, labeled protesters as thugs, and claimed American cities are in chaos.
“You are the chairman, as I mentioned, of the Senate Homeland Security Committee,” Bash told Johnson. “Are you comfortable with the president appearing to inflame tensions instead of what we normally see from presidents, which is trying to calm them down?”
Johnson deflected, saying that he is personally “urging calm across the board” before adding that “we need to get control of the situation,” prompting Bash to push back.
“You say everybody should be calm, which sounds logical,” she declared. “Look at what we’re seeing one thing on the president’s Twitter feed this morning, he seems to be encouraging his supporters to go into Portland which is resulting in some of this violence. Is that what you want to be seeing from the president, sir?”
Johnson, meanwhile, asserted that “there are people agitating all over the place,” causing Bash to remind the pro-Trump lawmaker that Trump is the president of the United States. The Wisconsin senator went on to insist that the president “responded immediately” amid the violent protests and shootings in Kenosha.
The two then engaged in a heated back-and-forth that culminated in Bash once again pressing Johnson on the president’s inflammatory rhetoric.
“Given what you’re saying, would you prefer the president not tweet agitating comments and agitating ideas on his Twitter feed?” Bash asked over a shouting Johnson.
“That’s how you typify it,” he fired back.
“There is no other way to see it,” Bash retorted. “It is very different from what you said.”
Moments later, the pair had another contentious exchange when the CNN host invoked the vigilante-style killings in Kenosha, pointing out that the deaths appear to be the result of clashes between the left and right, while wondering aloud whether the president has a responsibility to call out violence regardless of who’s committing it.
After Johnson said it was necessary to look at the “entire situation,” which included the protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Bash directly confronted the lawmaker on whether or not he condemned the alleged murders by 17-year-old Trump supporter Kyle Rittenhouse.
“It is a tragedy,” Johnson answered.
He would continue to just call it a “tragedy” as Bash repeatedly pressed the matter, prompting the CNN host to eventually note that “a tragedy could be a car accident” while again asking if he’d condemn the suspected shooter’s actions.
“You allow for peaceful protesters, but you don’t allow—you don’t allow peaceful protests to turn siege into siege,” Johnson replied. “Listen, I don’t want to see anybody lose their life. I don’t want to see the violence continue. I don’t want to see businesses burn down. I don’t want to see economic destruction. I condemn it all.”
In a followup State of the Union interview, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) took Johnson to task for his inability to roundly condemn the Kenosha shootings, saying that he found it “astounding” that his colleague couldn’t simply condemn it.
Schiff also said that the president was “willfully fanning the flames” of violence in an effort to help his campaign.