White House press secretary argues that the Civil War wasn’t about race

Sanders blames the media for controversy about John Kelly's praise of the Confederacy.


During a White House news briefing on Tuesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Chief of Staff John Kelly’s praise of Robert E. Lee and remarks about how “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War,” not the Confederacy’s refusal to abolish slavery.

At one point during the briefing, Sanders justified Kelly’s comments by conflating American history with the history of the Confederacy, which in fact regarded itself as a separate country.

“Look, all of our leaders have flaws — Washington, Jefferson, JFK, Roosevelt, Kennedy — that doesn’t diminish their contributions to our country, and it certainly can’t erase them from our history,” she said. “And General Kelly was simply making the point that just because history isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s not our history.

At another point, Sanders defended Kelly’s analysis of the Civil War’s origin, saying, “if some individuals had been willing to come to some compromises on different things, it may not have occurred.” She didn’t mention exactly what sort of “things” she was referring to.


Later, Sanders was asked a follow-up question: “Does the White House at least acknowledge that the chief of staff’s comments are deeply offensive to some folks and historically inaccurate?”

Sanders indicated that the White House does not.

“No, because as I said before, I think that you can’t — because you don’t like history doesn’t mean that you can erase it and pretend that it didn’t happen, and I think that’s the point that General Kelly was trying to make,” Sanders said, before taking aim at the media for alleged controversy-mongering.

“And to try to create something and push a narrative that simple doesn’t exist is just frankly outrageous and absurd,” Sanders continued. “I think the fact that we keep trying to drive, the media continues to want to make this and push that this is some sort of a racially charged and divided White House — frankly the only people I see stoking political racism right now are the people in the groups that are running ads like the one you saw take place in Virginia earlier this week. That’s the type of thing that I think really is a problem, and I think it is absurd and disgraceful to keep trying to make comments and take them out of context and mean something they simply don’t.”

The latest Civil War-related controversy to envelope the White House was not, however, a media invention. Kelly went out of his way to praise Lee and the Confederacy during an interview on the debut edition of Laura Ingraham’s new Fox News show Monday night. Kelly was responding to a question about the removal of Confederate plaques.


Lee “was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days,” Kelly said. “But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

At no point did Kelly mention the role that the South’s determination to preserve the institution of slavery play in sparking the Civil War. Nor did Sanders mention it on Tuesday. As she left the podium, a reporter repeatedly tried to ask her, “Does this administration believe slavery was wrong?” Sanders didn’t answer.