President Trump on NFL owners: ‘I think they’re afraid of their players’

President Donald Trump believes NFL owners are “afraid of their players” when it comes to the recent controversy over players kneeling during the National Anthem, he said in an interview that aired Thursday.

“I have so many friends that are owners and they’re in a box,” President Trump told Fox News. “I mean, I’ve spoken to a couple of them, and they say, ‘We are in a situation where we need to do something.’ I think they’re afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth, and I think it’s disgraceful.”

He continued: “They’ve got to be tough and they’ve got to be smart.”

President Trump was referencing recent protests by NFL players who have kneeled during the National Anthem. The President and his aides argue that the protests are unpatriotic and disrespectful to the flag and those who have fought to protect the US. But the players, some of whom have said they are protesting social injustice and police brutality, argue that they are exercising free speech.

During the interview, President Trump also suggested NFL ratings are down and less people are attending the games where players are kneeling during the National Anthem.

“Because you look at the ratings, the ratings are going way down … the stadiums, there are a lot of empty seats, I couldn’t even believe it,” he said. “When it comes to the respect of our nation, when it comes to the respect of our anthem and our flag, we have no choice. We have to have people stand with respect.”

But it’s unclear whether changes in the ratings or attendance are due to the protests, competition from other television programming or the level of interest in the matchups.

‘Health care didn’t go down’

President Trump also reiterated his claim that Republicans had the necessary votes to pass a bill overhauling health care, but didn’t because they didn’t have enough time.

“Health care didn’t go down. We have the votes. Reconciliation is a disaster,” President Trump said, referring to budgetary measures that only requires the Senate to have 51 votes, or a simple majority, to pass a bill. “It ends on Friday (and) we don’t have enough time.”

President Trump has said that he believes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs to get rid of the filibuster, a rule that currently requires 60 votes to pass legislation in the chamber. McConnell has summarily rejected the idea. But it’s unclear what votes President Trump is referring to since Hill Republicans decided this week not to have a vote when it was clear the measure would not pass.

When asked if President Trump still has confidence in McConnell, he responded, “I do.”

“Look, I have dealt with Mitch for a long time. I think he has to get rid of the filibuster rule. It’s a disaster for the Republican Party because it means you needs 60 votes on most pieces of legislation and you are not going to get it,” President Trump said. “In the meantime, I’m going to start negotiating with Democrats and we will see’s what.”

When asked if he can trust Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, President Trump responded, “it’s not a question of trust.”

“I have a nice relationship with them. It’s not really trust. If we can do a great bipartisan health care bill, I’m OK with that. We have the the votes to get it done. You can’t go do it when somebody is in the hospital,” President Trump said, referencing GOP Sen. Thad Cochran — who was recently treated for a urological issue, but has said he is not in the hospital. “When you have 52 votes and you need 51, it’s, you know, it’s very hard to get because you always have somebody and some cases they will want to grandstand.”