During a week in which a crucial Senate health care vote, his tax plan, the North Korean nuclear threat and Puerto Rico's post-hurricane suffering vied for attention, President Donald Trump carried his feud with the NFL over players who kneel in protest into the new week with a fresh volley of tweets.
The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
But for some, Trump's argument with professional athletes had everything to do with race.
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart defended players' rights to peacefully protest what they view as racial inequality and police mistreatment of black males.
"Everyone should know, including the president, this is what real locker room talk is," Lockhart said in an apparent reference to the "Access Hollywood" tapes in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Trump had chalked up those comments to "locker room talk."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for key NFL sponsor Anheuser-Busch said the beer maker supports both the national anthem and freedom of speech.
Matt Kohan, senior director of marketing communications, said the company's history of supporting the institutions and values that have made America strong includes "our armed forces and the national anthem, as well as diversity, equality and freedom of speech.''
Kohan said the controversy between Trump and protesting NFL players "touches on complex issues that require in-depth discussions and nuanced debate.''
Speaker maker Bose Corp said in a statement that the American flag "is a symbol of our great country which protects the freedom for every person to express their views. We respect that freedom, whether we agree with those views or not."
Yet another sponsor, auto maker Hyundai, said "we stand for and respect individuals' freedoms to express their first amendment rights in any peaceful manner in which they choose. We also stand for inclusion, freedom and all that represents those values."
Public opinion is mixed on whether professional athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem as Trump would like, and there is a racial split in how Americans process the issue.
More than half of Americans, or 52 percent, said in a September 2016 Marist Poll that sports leagues should require their players to stand for the national anthem. While a majority of whites, 56 percent, said standing should be required, most Latino adults, 55 percent, and nearly half of African-Americans, 48 percent, said athletes should not be made to stand.
As the criticism rolled in, Trump supporters argued that he was expressing patriotism, not targeting African-American players.
"It's a perfect example of where the president gets it right," said Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a longtime Trump friend. Ruddy said team officials and the news media are not in line with much of the country: "It's a win for him at the end of the day."
Trump tweeted about the issue anew Monday evening, rebutting a CNN report that White House chief of staff John Kelly was displeased with Trump's criticism of the NFL. Trump referred to the network as "fake news" and tweeted that Kelly "totally agrees w/ my stance on NFL players and the fact that they should not be disrespecting our FLAG or GREAT COUNTRY!"
The NFL spat overshadowed the beginning of a week in which Trump was expected to flesh out the tax overhaul plan he wants to sign into law by year's end, and perhaps help win over enough Senate Republicans to pass the newest health care bill. Both are top legislative priorities for him and his party.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back against the idea that Trump wasn't spending enough time on his agenda.
"It really doesn't take that long to type out 140 characters," she said. "And this president is very capable of doing more than one thing at a time and more than one thing in a day."
But instead of putting the public focus on health care or the tax plan, the president spent four days attacking NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
During a political rally Friday in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out -- he's fired, he's fired.'"
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.