The chief executive of the Irving-based Boy Scouts has apologized to members of the scouting community who were offended by the aggressive political rhetoric in President Donald Trump's recent speech to the Scouts' national jamboree.
The apology came in a statement from Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh, three days after Trump's speech to nearly 40,000 scouts and adults gathered in West Virginia.
Other U.S. presidents have delivered nonpolitical speeches at past jamborees. To the dismay of many parents and former scouts, Trump, a Republican, promoted his political agenda and derided his rivals, inducing some of the scouts in attendance to boo at the mention of Barack Obama, his Democratic predecessor.
"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," Surbaugh said. "That was never our intent... We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program."
Surbaugh noted that every sitting president since 1937 has been invited to visit the jamboree.
"It is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies," he said. "For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters."
A Message to Our Scouting Family on the Presidential Visit https://t.co/boj4FuCzgn
— Boy Scouts - BSA (@boyscouts) July 27, 2017
White House reacts
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, at a news briefing, was asked about the Boy Scouts' statement and whether Trump owes them an apology.
Sanders said that she'd been at the event and didn't see anything inappropriate.
"I saw nothing but roughly 40-45,000 boy scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks," she said. "And I think they were pretty excited that he was there and happy to hear him speak to them."
Asked about the parents who have publicly criticized the speech, Sanders said she had nothing to add.
The speech, delivered Monday at a national gathering of Scouts, staff and volunteers in West Virginia, drew fire from critics who felt the president inappropriately brought partisan arguments to a typically nonpartisan setting — despite Trump's early promise to "put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, D.C."
In the course of Trump's remarks, the president called on his secretary of health and human services to "start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare that's really hurting us."
Tom Price "better get Sen. [Shelley Moore] Capito to vote for it," Trump said, referencing the Republican senator from West Virginia. "He better get the other senators to vote for it. It's time. You know, after seven years of saying 'repeal and replace Obamacare,' we have a chance to now do it. They better do it. Hopefully they'll do it."
Then, he reminisced (in detail) about his Electoral College victory in November.
All told, NPR's Domenico Montanaro reports Trump touched on the latest jobs report, the "fake media" and his promises of "billions and billions and billions" in increased military spending.
CEO: A successful jamboree
Surbaugh, in his statement, contended that the Trump controversy has not diminished the success of the 10-day jamboree, yet he acknowledged its impact.
"Scouts have continued to trade patches, climb rock walls, and share stories about the day's adventures," he said. "But for our Scouting family at home not able to see these real moments of Scouting, we know the past few days have been overshadowed by the remarks offered by the President of the United States."
His statement echoed some of the sentiments expressed by the Boy Scouts' president, Randall Stephenson, in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Stephenson: 'We are not going to censor or edit the president'
Stephenson said Boy Scout leaders anticipated Trump would spark controversy with a politically tinged speech, yet felt obliged to invite him out of respect for his office.
Hoping to minimize friction, the Boy Scouts issued guidelines to adult staff members for how the audience should react to the speech. Any type of political chanting was specifically discouraged.
Stephenson, who was not in attendance at Trump's speech, said the guidance wasn't followed impeccably.
"There were some areas where perhaps they were not in compliance with what we instructed," he said. "There's probably criticism that could be leveled."
Stephenson was asked whether the Scouts would invite Trump back to address the next national jamboree if he wins re-election.
"I don't see why we would break with tradition, whoever is holding office," Stephenson said. "We are not to going to censor or edit the president of the United States. That's beyond our pay grade, regardless of who it is."
Criticism pours in on Boy Scouts' Facebook page
NPR reports on the criticism against the Boy Scouts:
"As a former Scout, as well as a former employee of Philmont Scout Ranch, I am beyond appalled that the Jamboree was turned into a political rally tonight," one parent noted on Monday. "Unless the BSA condemns the President's conduct (which included bullying, name-calling, and swearing) in strong and clear terms, I will know that there is no place for my two sons in scouting."
In the past few years, the Boy Scouts have retreated from the culture wars, dropping their ban on gay Scouts and Scout leaders, and have tried harder to recruit minorities.
Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and co-founder of Scouts for Equality, a nonprofit group that has pushed to end discrimination against gay and transgender people in Scouting, told the Associated Press that Trump's remarks "really harmed the Boy Scouts' ability to do that work, which is all about serving America."
"The wrong speech at the wrong place at the wrong time," Wahls said.
Read the CEO's statement
In the last two weeks, we have celebrated the best of Scouting at our 20th National Jamboree with nearly 40,000 participants, volunteers, staff and visitors. The 2017 National Jamboree has showcased and furthered the Scouting mission by combining adventure and leadership development to give youth life-changing experiences. Scouts from Alaska met Scouts from Alabama; Scouts from New Mexico met those from New York, and American youth met youth from 59 other countries.
Over the course of ten days, Scouts have taken part in adventures, learned new skills, made new and lasting friendships and completed over 200 community service projects that offered 100,000 hours of service to the community by young men and women eager to do the right thing for the right reasons.
These character-building experiences have not diminished in recent days at the jamboree – Scouts have continued to trade patches, climb rock walls, and share stories about the day’s adventures. But for our Scouting family at home not able to see these real moments of Scouting, we know the past few days have been overshadowed by the remarks offered by the President of the United States.
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. The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition that has been extended to the leader of our nation that has had a Jamboree during his term since 1937. It is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.
While we live in a challenging time in a country divided along political lines, the focus of Scouting remains the same today as every day.
Trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness and bravery are just a few of the admirable traits Scouts aspire to develop – in fact, they make up the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
As part of our program’s duty to country, we teach youth to become active citizens, to participate in their government, respect the variety of perspectives and to stand up for individual rights.
Few will argue the importance of teaching values and responsibility to our youth — not only right from wrong, but specific positive values such as fairness, courage, honor and respect for others.
For all of the adventure we provide youth such as hiking, camping and zip-lining, those activities actually serve as proven pathways and opportunities to develop leadership skills and become people of character.
In a time when differences seem to separate our country, we hope the true spirit of Scouting will empower our next generation of leaders to bring people together to do good in the world.
Yours in Scouting,