WASHINGTON — Leading Democrats on Sunday defended moves by local governments to remove monuments of Confederate leaders, saying that the unrest in Charlottesville last week showed that the statues had become rallying points for white supremacists.
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said President Trump ‘‘got this wrong’’ when he expressed opposition to taking down commemorations to Confederate leaders. People don’t need monuments to learn history, Cardin said on ‘‘Fox News Sunday.’’
‘‘You don’t need a monument offensive to certain parts of our history being glorified in order to appreciate history,’’ Cardin said.
Cardin said he supports actions this past week in Baltimore and Annapolis to remove statues of Confederate leaders. ‘‘I think what Baltimore and Annapolis are doing is appropriate,’’ Cardin said.
Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary under President Barack Obama, said that the monuments had become ‘‘rallying points’’ for white supremacists.
‘‘I salute people taking down these monuments as a matter of public safety,’’ Johnson said in an interview on ABC’s ‘‘This Week.”
Richmond’s mayor, Levar Stoney, said on the same program that he had changed his mind about the presence of Civil War monuments to Confederate leaders.
As mayor of the city that served as the Confederate capital, Stoney, who is black, said that he once thought the monuments could be ‘‘tools to teach and enlighten’’ people but that now he also sees them as ‘‘rallying points.’’
Trump provoked outcry from business leaders, Democrats and Republicans, and military leaders by failing to strongly condemn white supremacists and Nazis marching in Charlottesville. He said that ‘‘both sides’’ were to blame for violence there, which took the life of one woman.
Former representative J.C. Watts, Republican of Oklahoma, urged congressional leaders to speak out against Trump’s comments if they disagreed with them. ‘‘This is not a time for us to suppress our convictions,’’ Watts said on NBC’s ‘‘Meet the Press.’’