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Ron Johnson

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson grew visibly annoyed with questions about President Donald Trump's perceived tolerance of white nationalism, telling reporters on Wednesday he would like to move beyond the issue to focus on things like tax reform and regulatory relief. 

"You tell me what he needs to say so we can move beyond this," the Republican senator said when asked by reporters in Madison what the president should say about the violent white nationalist rally that took place in Virginia last weekend. "He said it once. Again, I'm not going to speak for the president, I speak for myself. I have totally denounced it. I want to work on these enormous problems, these challenges facing our nation."

Johnson did condemn white nationalism as a "completely evil ideology" and said it is "depressing" that a woman, Heather Heyer, was killed fighting against it. Heyer was killed when a man who identified as a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters at the rally in Charlottesville on Saturday.

But he offered only tepid criticism of Trump, arguing as he did on the campaign trail that he doesn't agree with any individual 100 percent of the time. 

"Not entirely, no," Johnson said when asked whether he was comfortable with what the president said during a press conference on Tuesday. 

The senator was then asked what made him uncomfortable.

"The same things that make the American people uncomfortable, the same reason we haven't moved beyond this issue," Johnson said. "Let’s try to unify this nation, let’s try and heal it, let’s try and focus on what is causing the division and try and reduce it."

In a press conference on Tuesday, Trump laid blame for the violence in Charlottesville on "both sides." 

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Johnson said he will focus on supporting Trump in the areas on which they agree: growing the economy, reducing the regulatory burden, reforming the tax system and strengthening the military.

He said he believes the country has seen "the beginning of positive moves" under Trump, in particular when it comes to national security. Johnson said he believes Trump has put North Korea and China "on notice," and added that the regulatory burden has been reduced under his leadership.

"We can continue to harp on President Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville, but from my standpoint, I’m concentrating on finding areas of agreement and doing everything I can under my committee’s jurisdiction and what I can do to improve the situation."

Johnson said he does not believe the president is a racist. He bristled when asked whether the president tolerates racism.

"Do you have any other questions? I think we’ve covered this one well enough," he said.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.