KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
It's been a fraught week for Republicans in office. Many of them felt compelled to distance themselves from, if not outwardly condemn, President Trump for his handling of the violence in Charlottesville last weekend. That's where swastikas and Nazi salutes blended with Make America Great Again hats. Former Klan leader David Duke talked about fulfilling the promises of the Trump presidency, and a woman was killed when a white nationalist drove into a crowd of protesters.
One of the Republican lawmakers critical of the president's equivocal responses to what happened in Charlottesville is Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. I talked to him earlier today, and I asked him first about the news that broke this afternoon that chief strategist Steve Bannon, the onetime head of Breitbart News, will be leaving the White House staff immediately.
JAMES LANKFORD: Obviously the president's on-the-job training shows everyone around him if it's not a fit, then it's not a fit and you make the change.
MCEVERS: What do you hope could be different about the presidency now going forward?
LANKFORD: I think one of the key things that's been discussed about President Trump is he's a very unorthodox president. That's an understatement, I think. He doesn't come from a political background. He comes from a business background. He has his own style and his own swagger that is uniquely his. He brought in a lot of team members around him that shared some of that same style. And now he's shifting to say, OK, what people do I need in what places to help me get things done in Washington?
MCEVERS: I know that this is something that you've talked about yourself in terms of what the president should say after what happened in Charlottesville last weekend. Mitt Romney has called on the president to address the nation and apologize for his tone this week equating white nationalists with other protesters. What do you think the president needs to do?
LANKFORD: Yeah, I think the president needs to be very unequivocal and very clear that white nationalism or any kind of supremacy of any type is unacceptable in American culture and is not something we equate to anything else. The United States and the rest of the world fought a war and lost blood and treasure with my grandparents' generation fighting to stop the Nazi threat from rising across the world. This is something that history has already thrown in the trash bin. And they need to be very, very clear that that is not acceptable. And the more clear that the president can say that, the better it is for the nation.
MCEVERS: The events last weekend in Charlottesville revealed this really deep rift in racial relations and obviously put on display two groups who feel very differently about things. I mean, how do we address this going forward? Where do we go from here?
LANKFORD: One of the biggest issues, I think, Charlottesville exposed was to a group of Americans that somehow felt that the issue of race is settled in America. And I've tried to reinforce to many people race is not settled in America. We've made tremendous progress. We've moved a long way past three-fifths of a man. We've moved a long way past separate but equal. But race is not done. So I think that it exposed not only a generation that is still passing onto their children a sense of racism. It also exposed to the nation that there's more work and we're up to it. So this is a good moment for us to continue to be able to make that forward progress.
Senator (inaudible) Scott and I have for the past year encouraged families with one simple question, what we call solution Sundays. We asked the question of each family, when is the last time your family invited a family of another race to your home for dinner? Now, that may not seem like a radical question. But the simplicity of it - it's a relationship. When has your family invited another family over for dinner?
MCEVERS: Do you think there are people in Charlottesville who talk about real grievances - you know, taking down these statues, wiping out pieces of what some people consider an important part of our history - do you think they have - some of them have valid grievances here?
LANKFORD: The simple part about this is history. There is a history of racism in America. There is a history of slavery in America. It's a good thing to be able to have markers in our culture and for people to be able to look at it and say, this is who we used to be. That's a teaching point.
Now, it's very different - things like naming a school. I have an issue when schools are named after people that are not good role models. I'd like to see the name of every school be a school that those kids that go to that school could emulate. But for a lot of other historical markers, they make a point. That teaching point is essential to see.
MCEVERS: Well, Senator James Lankford, thank you so much.
LANKFORD: Oh, it's been an honor to visit with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.