After nearly a week of criticism from Boy Scouts, their parents and the public, Michael Surbaugh, chief Scout executive of Boy Scouts of America, apologized Thursday for a speech President Donald Trump gave at the group's National Jamboree on Monday night. The president's speech lambasted the press, rehashed his Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton and included veiled threats about the virtue of loyalty.
"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," Surbaugh said. "The invitation for the sitting U.S. president to visit the National Jamboree is a longstanding tradition that has been extended to the leader of our nation that has had a Jamboree during his term since 1937."
Surbaugh said that despite America's political divisions, the focus of Scouting remains the same as when the the group, which is based in Irving, was founded in 1910. "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," he said.
Trump's invitation to the annual event should in no way be considered an endorsement, Surbaugh said. "For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained nonpartisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program," he said.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Randall Stephenson, president of Boy Scouts of America and CEO of AT&T, said that while the organization anticipated Trump's speech would be controversial, it felt obliged to invite the president out of respect for the office.
"Anyone knows his speeches get highly political — we anticipated that this could be the case," Stephenson said. "Do I wish the president hadn't gone there and hadn't been political? Of course."
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During his speech, Trump asked the Scouts in attendance if they remembered the day he was elected. Trump called it a beautiful day before launching into a twisting, minutes-long aside about how difficult it is for a Republican to win the Electoral College — "popular vote is much easier," he said — and the dishonesty of the media's polls that showed him trailing Clinton throughout the campaign. He criticized former President Barack Obama for failing to attend a Jamboree but didn't mention that — unlike Trump — Obama and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were Scouts.
Despite the controversy surrounding Trump's speech, Stephenson said that the Boy Scouts will continue to invite the president to the jamboree. "I don't see why we would break with tradition, whoever is holding office," he 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."
When White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked Thursday whether the president would apologize for the content of his speech, she said that the Scouts enjoyed the speech. "I was at that event, and I saw nothing but roughly 40- to 45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks," she said.