President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump after a...

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump after a visit Tuesday to the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington. Credit: AP / Patrick Semansky

Hot under the collars

For President Donald Trump, neither a frequent churchgoer nor well-versed in the Bible, professions of piety are a political go-to. In 2016, he suggested religious persecution could be behind audits of his tax returns — "maybe because of the fact that I’m a strong Christian." He adopted religious conservatives' political agenda, and evangelicals embraced him back, becoming a core of his base.

But holy heck erupted over Trump's Bible-waving photo-op in front of St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington on Monday — after peaceful protesters were driven from a nearby park with tear gas to clear a path for his walk to the church — and another brief presidential visit on Tuesday to the St. John Paul II National Shrine in another part of the nation's capital. Trump, joined by the first lady, stood for photos in front of the late pope's statue there and looked at a wreath.

His appearance drew an unusual condemnation from Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the first African American archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington.

"I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree," Gregory said in a statement. The shrine is operated independently by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic community organization that has lobbied for conservative political causes.

“Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth," Gregory said. "He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”

About a half-mile away, several dozen protesters held signs that read, “Black lives matter,” “Trump mocks Christ” and “God is not a prop.” Michelle Dixon, 38, told The Washington Post: “How can you stand there and hold up a Bible and say you believe in this unconditional love that is God when you are sowing fear and hatred?" The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopalian Diocese of Washington, which includes St. John's Church, said Tuesday on CBS' "This Morning" that Trump's Bible display was a "symbolic misuse of the most sacred texts of our tradition."

Trump's Bible thump won praise from a target audience. Robert Jeffress, a Dallas evangelical pastor who preached in St. John's for the president's inauguration, condemned "anarchists" he said set fire to that historic church on Sunday. (No suspects are known to have been identified.) On "Fox & Friends," he said the president showed "solidarity not only with that congregation but with houses of worship across America." But some other religious conservatives voiced discomfit. “The Bible is a book we should hold only with fear and trembling, given to us that in it we might find eternal life,” J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement.

Playing with soldiers

Members of the National Guard and military police stand guard...

Members of the National Guard and military police stand guard on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday as protesters demonstrate peacefully below them. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

Top active-duty armed forces leaders and recently retired officers have voiced anger over Trump's use of the military as a "prop" as he threatens to send in active-duty troops to crack down on domestic turmoil set off by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, reports Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin in a Twitter thread.

A senior administration official told Fox News that contrary to what Trump said in a phone call with governors, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley is not in charge of the response to protests. Milley, wearing combat fatigues, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper accompanied Trump on his church photo-op after protesters were routed Monday. Neither Esper nor Milley knew they would be part of the photo-op, officials told The New York Times.

A former Joint Chiefs chairman, retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, took issue with Trump and Esper using the term "battle space" to describe locales where disruptions are occurring. "America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy," Dempsey tweeted.

A former Special Operations commander, Gen. Tony Thomas, tweeted in reply to Esper: "The 'battle space' of America??? Not what America needs to hear … ever, unless we are invaded by an adversary or experience a constitutional failure … i.e. a Civil War."

Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, a former Joint Chiefs vice chairman, said Esper and Milley should remind the president to “reserve the use of federal forces for only the most dire circumstances that actually threaten the survival of the nation," according to the Times.

New York state of siege

Take the chronically dysfunctional relationship between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, and add Trump and the aftermath of a wild night of looting to the mix. You get an only-in-New York political donnybrook.

During his usual time for watching "Fox & Friends," Trump tweeted an attack on Cuomo. "New York was lost to the looters, thugs, Radical Left, and all others forms of Lowlife & Scum. The Governor refuses to accept my offer of a dominating National Guard," the president wrote Tuesday.

Then Cuomo ripped de Blasio's handling of the rioting. "The NYPD and the Mayor did not do their job last night," the governor said. "I don't think they've used enough police to address the situation."

Cuomo said he has offered to send in the support of the State Police and the 13,000 members of the National Guard, who are on standby, but de Blasio said no. Cuomo even brought up the possibility of using his power as governor to displace the mayor, before shooting down the idea as legally impractical and unnecessary.

De Blasio stood by his decision to decline Guard help. “When outside armed forces go into communities, no good comes of it," he said. The mayor lengthened the city's curfew to begin at 8 p.m. and end at 5 a.m. and said it would remain in effect for the rest of the week to "magnify our ability to control this situation." He said the NYPD would reevaluate and redeploy resources based on its latest intelligence. Read more from Newsday's reporting staff, written by Nicole Fuller.

Janison: The unreal deal

Three-plus years into Trump's term, beset by back-to-back crisis, the nation is led by a man offering his simulation of leadership, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

The pose in front of St. John's Church was crafted as simulated courage. His awkward display of a Bible simulated faith. When simulating statesmanship, Trump gets photographed with foreign leaders, even when no new agreements are reached or are even close.

On Tuesday, he posed on Twitter in his old role as reality-show executive, railing against not just Cuomo but also his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo ("Fredo’s ratings are down 50%!"), and de Blasio. He tweet-blurts slogans associated with Richard Nixon without context: "SILENT MAJORITY!" "LAW & ORDER!"

Talking tough about looters is a political win-win, a matter of popular consensus especially in swing states. It requires no difficult action for the simulated presidency.

Biden: Trump 'part of the problem'

In a blistering speech from Philadelphia's City Hall, Joe Biden said “this president today is part of the problem and accelerates it,” adding that Trump is “consumed with his blinding ego.”

“He thinks division helps him,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said. “This narcissism has become more important than the nation’s well-being.” He said the president disregards core constitutional values and is “more interested in power than in principle.”

Mocking Trump's Bible show from Monday, Biden said that if the president had opened it instead of brandishing it, "he could have learned something.” The former vice president said Trump “might also want to open the U.S. Constitution. If he did, he’d find the First Amendment. It protects the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The tone was part of Biden’s effort to cast himself as a “consoler in chief,” in stark contrast to Trump’s blunt, confrontational style. He pledged that if elected, "I won’t fan the flames of hate. I’ll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country, not use them for political gain.”

A lawyer for Floyd's family said Biden is expected to attend the funeral in Houston next week. CNN reported the arrangements for Biden to come have not been finalized.

Trump: I'm not the problem

Trump had no new answers to the protests' cause, but he gave himself a chest-thump on Twitter, declaring his administration "has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln."

He concluded: "AND THE BEST IS YET TO COME!"

Branding issue

The U.S. Park Police objected to news reports that it used tear gas on the protesters near the White House on Monday. It said what it fired into the crowd was "smoke canisters and pepper balls,” which release pepper spray.

“Tear gas” is a colloquial term used to describe a variety of irritating crowd-control agents, including pepper spray, Bloomberg News reported.

The Washington Post notes that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Riot control agents (sometimes referred to as 'tear gas') are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.” Pepper spray is one of them.

Coronavirus news

See a roundup of the pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • A CBS News poll released on Tuesday found that just 32% of Americans approve of Trump's response to the events surrounding the Minneapolis killing, while 49% disapprove. A Morning Consult poll asked voters whether the situation made them more likely to vote for Trump or Biden. The edge went to Biden, 45% to 31%.
  • A 57% majority of Americans in a Monmouth University poll say police officers facing a difficult or dangerous situation are more likely to use excessive force if the person involved is black. When the question was asked four years ago, only 34% thought so.
  • Former President George W. Bush addressed the nationwide protests in a statement Tuesday, commending the Americans demonstrating against racial injustice and criticizing those who try to silence them. “It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future,” Bush wrote.
  • Trump tweeted Tuesday night that he'll look for another city to host the Republican National Convention after North Carolina's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, rejected the GOP’s demands to allow full attendance in Charlotte amid coronavirus concerns. Republican National Committee officials are looking at potential alternatives in Nashville; Las Vegas; Orlando; Jacksonville, Florida; and venues in Georgia, CNN reported.
  • Trump has a new wall, and he got it fast: A black fence, about 8 feet tall, was erected around Lafayette Square overnight to keep protesters farther away from the White House.
  • At least 18,000 National Guard members across 29 states and the District of Columbia have been deployed to deal with the protests and related violence, PBS reported.
  • Bemoaning the looting at Macy's Herald Square, Trump called the flagship store "a point of pride in NYC." It's a kinder view of the department store chain than he took when it dumped Trump-branded products in 2015, after his campaign announcement speech saying many Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers. Trump called for a boycott back then.
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