WASHINGTON - The head of the Boy Scouts of America apologized Thursday for the “political rhetoric” U.S. President Donald Trump employed in a speech earlier this week at a non-partisan national scouting jamboree.
Michael Surbaugh, chief scout executive for the group, said scouting adventures for thousands of youths at the quadrennial event in the eastern state of West Virginia had “been overshadowed by the remarks offered by the president of the United States.”
Surbaugh added, “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.”
He said invitations to U.S. presidents to appear at the jamboree are a long-standing tradition. Past presidents who have addressed the group typically have given inspirational or goal-oriented speeches, not political commentary on the latest Washington disputes as Trump did.
Surbaugh said the scouting group has “steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the scouting program.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined comment on Surbaugh's statement, telling reporters she "heard nothing but cheering" for Trump at the event.
Trump initially told Scouts Monday night at the National Scout Jamboree that he would not talk about politics. “Who the hell wants to talk about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?” he said.
In the course of the half-hour speech, however, Trump fired barbs at former President Barack Obama and his election opponent last year, Democrat Hillary Clinton, while attacking the “fake” news media and “this horrible thing known as Obamacare,” Obama's national health care law Trump is trying to repeal. He spoke about about the “cesspool” of lawmakers in Washington and boasted about his election victory.
Some Scout leaders took to social media to disparage Trump's speech, while the group's Facebook page was filled with comments criticizing the president for using the Boy Scout gathering for political attacks.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, wrote on Twitter, “As a Scout leader, my stomach is in knots about what Trump did today. If you haven't watched it yet, don't. It's downright icky.”
About 40,000 Scouts, leaders and volunteers were on hand for the jamboree.
'We'll be back'
Obama never appeared at the event in person during his two terms in the White House, but he did send a video message in 2010, the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. Trump took note of that.
“By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?” he asked. “The answer is no ... but we'll be back.”
Toward the end of his remarks, Trump reminisced about his election victory last November, mocking news media and pollsters who had predicted he would lose.
“But do you remember that incredible night with the maps?” he asked, referring to state-by-state maps denoting Democratic or Republican wins with blue or red coloring. “And that map was so red it was unbelievable, and they didn't know what to say.”