A leader of the Boy Scouts of America apologized Thursday for a speech that President Donald Trump gave to thousands of teenage Scouts earlier this week – in which Trump broke with the Scouts’ earnest traditions by criticizing his political opponents, recounting his election victory and talking about parties on yachts.
“I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent,” Michael Surbaugh, whose title is chief Scout executive, wrote in a message posted online.
That was a break from the Boy Scouts’ earlier statements about Trump’s speech, issued the day afterward. Those merely noted that the Scouts were “respectful of the wide variety of viewpoints in this country” but made no mention of what Trump actually said.
On Thursday, Surbaugh wrote, “We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.”
“I was at that event, and I saw nothing but roughly 40 to 45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks, and I think that they were pretty excited that he was there and happy to hear him speak to them,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the incoming White House press secretary, said when asked about the statement at the news briefing on Thursday afternoon.
When pressed again on the topic and asked whether the president also needed to apologize, Sanders said: “Again, I was at that event and heard nothing but a lot of cheering and probably one of the most energetic crowds I’ve seen in front of the president, and so I don’t have anything to add. I haven’t seen the statement from the Boy Scouts, so I can’t comment any further than what I saw firsthand, and that was a lot of individuals, roughly 40 to 45,000, as reported, cheering the president on.”
Presidents are usually invited to address the National Scout Jamboree, a gathering that draws tens of thousands every four years. In the past, those presidential speeches dealt with broad themes such as service, cooperation and the evils of drug use.
Trump’s talk in Mount Hope, West Virginia, began with a similar message – “Never quit. Persevere. Never, ever quit” – but then it veered away toward other themes.
Trump said he wouldn’t talk about politics: “I said, who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts? Right?”
But he did.
Trump called the news media “fake news” and said the media would underplay the size of this crowd – as if the Boy Scouts were a crowd at a political rally. Trump told the Scouts about watching the U.S. map turn red on election night and blasted President Barack Obama for never attending a jamboree. Some in the crowd booed.
Trump also told stories about events rarely discussed from the rostrum at a Scout Jamboree, such as a New York cocktail party – “the hottest people in New York were at this party,” he said – and a friend who got rich in real estate.
“He went out and bought a big yacht, and he had a very interesting life,” Trump said. “I won’t go any more than that, because you’re Boy Scouts, so I’m not going to tell you what he did.”
In his statement, Surbaugh said that – outside of Trump’s talk – this year’s jamboree was the same as in past years, with Scouts trading patches, climbing rockwalls and making new friends.
But, he said, “we know the past few days have been overshadowed by the remarks offered by the President of the United States.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · David A. Fahrenthold