WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins served for more than a year as Donald Trump's most loyal congressional surrogate, speaking out again and again on behalf of the billionaire who became president.
Meantime, Rep. Tom Reed seemed to serve as sort of a supportive but somewhat distant younger brother to the president, backing Trump because of his Republican bloodlines but often gently encouraging him to stick to the issues and be more civil.
That was then. In the wake of President Trump's widely criticized response to last week's white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Collins has been close to silent. And Reed has focused his comments on what happened in Charlottesville rather than on how Trump reacted.
Asked for detailed comment about Trump's response – in which he seemed to equate the neo-Nazi and white nationalist protesters with those who marched to oppose them – neither Collins nor Reed made themselves available for interviews on Friday.
Collins responded to only two of the seven questions The News asked via email. Reed answered them all but without criticizing the president.
Collins, a Clarence Republican, did not directly answer a question about whether he agreed with Trump's initial reaction to Charlottesville, in which the president blamed "many sides" for the violence. Nor did Collins directly answer a question about Trump's contention that there were "good people on both sides" of the protests.
Instead, Collins issued a statement that didn't mention the president's name.
“I strongly condemn the violence we saw in Charlottesville this past weekend," Collins said in the statement. "As the son of an officer in General Patton’s army that helped save the world from nazism and fascism, I stand against all acts of racism, radicalism, supremacism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance."
Collins then reiterated something he said after the recent shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican.
"We all must be cognizant that our words and actions have strong meaning," he said. "We must come together as Americans and tone down our political rhetoric and stand united against all hateful acts.”
Both in a brief Bloomberg Television appearance and in a statement to The News, Reed offered a more detailed answer to questions about Trump's comments.
"When we see the white nationalist movement, have to call it what it is: that those are movements that are based on just hatred and bigotry," Reed, a Corning Republican, told Bloomerg. "I am adamantly opposed to that and will stand arm in arm with everyone who wants to oppose that type of extreme nationalist perspective."
Asked about Trump's comment that "many sides" played a role in the Charlottesville violence, Reed said: "From my perspective, we see extremism on all sides of the equation. And if that's what the president is talking about – and I think that's what he's talking about – I think it's only right that we call out that extremism for what it is. It's not American. It's based on hate. It's based on bigotry. And that cannot be something we stand for as an American society."
Asked if he agreed with Trump that there were "good people" on both sides in Charlottesville, Reed told The News: "I think it was best said by Martin Luther King, Jr.,' There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.' "
Such reactions contrast sharply with that of some other Republicans.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee spoke at a Rotary Club meeting in Chattanooga Thursday and said, in essence, that Trump is failing.
"The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs to demonstrate in order for him to be successful — and our nation and our world needs for him to be successful, whether you are Republican or Democrat,” said Corker, whom Trump considered for secretary of state.
Asked about Corker's comments, Collins did not respond.
Reed said: "The senator is entitled to his opinion, but I disagree.”
Other Republicans also have been increasingly critical of Trump. The 2012 Republican nominee for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, took to Facebook to write a devastating critique of Trump's performance.
"Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn," said Romney, who was also a candidate to be Trump's secretary of state. "His apologists strain to explain that he didn't mean what we heard."
Fox News, hardly the most critical news outlet that Republicans face, could not find one Republican to go on the air Wednesday to defend Trump a day after he said the crowd of Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville included good people.
"Our booking team — and they're good — reached out to Republicans of all stripes, across the country today," Fox anchor Shepard Smith said on the air on Wednesday. "Let's be honest, Republicans often don't really mind coming on Fox News Channel. We couldn't get anyone to come and defend him here, because we thought, in balance, someone should do that."
Democrats, not surprisingly, are more than happy to speak out against the president.
Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo was one of about 80 House Democrats to sign onto a resolution introduced Friday that would censure the president for his comments.
"The president has been insincere, inconsistent and incoherent, and has failed a major test of presidential leadership that is unbecoming of his office and the leader of the free world," Higgins said.
New York's two U.S. senators, both Democrats, were appalled at Trump's comments.
"Great and good American presidents seek to unite not divide," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on Twitter. "Donald Trump’s remarks clearly show he is not one of them."
Schumer called Trump's reaction to the Charlottesville incident "reprehensible," and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand called Trump's performance a leadership failure.
"Leadership means standing up and speaking out when equality is in jeopardy and hateful ideologies undermine our common values," Gillibrand tweeted, adding: "If he won’t lead, we have to. And we will."
Asked about the Democratic effort to censure Trump, Collins criticized the Democrats far more than he criticized Trump.
“Based on Donald Trump’s efforts to turn this economy around, fix a broken federal government, stand up to our enemies and stop illegal immigration, it’s no surprise that Washington Democrats would display such hypocrisy," Collins said. "Not only is their rhetoric ridiculous and irresponsible, it feeds the hateful atmosphere in which we find ourselves.”