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Generals' disdain is not the kind of military parade Trump wanted

U.S. troops unload from buses on June 3

U.S. troops unload from buses on June 3 in Washington as demonstrators protest George Floyd's death. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

Is the fault in the stars?

After a shoutfest with top Cabinet and military officials last Monday, President Donald Trump never did carry out his threat to deploy 10,000 active-duty troops against unrest ignited by the police killing of George Floyd. By Sunday, the National Guard was withdrawing from Washington, too, while peaceful protests continued in the nation's capital.

But Trump's willingness to use U.S. military forces against American civilians was a last straw for former senior military officials alarmed by how he conducts himself as commander in chief. Marching to the front of that line on Sunday was Colin Powell, the four-star general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

Powell, a Republican, announced on CNN's "State of the Union" that he will vote for Democrat Joe Biden for president. "We have a Constitution. We have to follow that Constitution. And the president's drifted away from it," Powell said.

"I think what we're seeing now, this massive protest movement I have ever seen in my life, I think it suggests the country is getting wise to this and we're not going to put up with it anymore," Powell said. He assailed Trump's character, too, and Republicans who won't stand up to him. "He lies about things. And he gets away with it because people will not hold him accountable," the retired Army general said.

Trump quickly took to Twitter to dismiss Powell as "highly overrated" and "a real stiff who was very responsible for getting us into the disastrous Middle East War." Last week, after former Defense Secretary James Mattis denounced Trump as "the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people," his former boss called him "the world’s most overrated General." When Trump's former chief of staff John Kelly stood with Mattis, a fellow retired four-star Marine general, the president said Kelly wants "to come back for a piece of the limelight." Trump previously has said Kelly was "way over his head" and "just can't keep his mouth shut."

Powell, Mattis and Kelly have joined a constellation of retired four-star officers who say Trump wants to use the military improperly as a domestic political weapon. They include Marine Gen. John Allen; Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, a former Joint Chiefs chairman; and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, a former Joint Chiefs chairman.

Others include Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former Joint Chiefs chairman; Navy Adm. William McRaven, a former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; Adm. James Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO; Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas, a former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; and Air Force Gen. Mike Hayden, a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency.

Barr: Systemic racism is in past

Attorney General William Barr said Sunday that while there's still "racism in the United States," he does not believe that the country’s “law enforcement system is systemically racist." That problem, he said on CBS' "Face the Nation," was in the past, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

"I understand … the distrust, however, of the African American community, given the history in this country. I think we have to recognize that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist," Barr said. "Since the 1960s, I think we've been in a phase of reforming our institutions and making sure that they're in sync with our laws.”

National security adviser Robert O'Brien and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf also have disputed the existence of systemic racism in law enforcement. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the only African American now or ever in Trump's Cabinet, gave a similar response when asked on CNN's "State of the Union."

A contrary view on the Sunday talk show circuit came from Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat and African American who was formerly police chief of Orlando. The country has to be “painfully honest,” Demings said on ABC's "This Week." She added that the U.S. has been “fighting systemic racism in this country for 400 years” and it "is always the ghost in the room.”

No Esper-ation date

There were doubts inside and outside the White House last week that Mark Esper would last much longer as defense secretary after he split publicly with the president on the use of active-duty military forces to quell domestic unrest. But it may be OK to send a bowl of green bananas to his Pentagon office. 

"President Trump remains confident in Secretary Esper," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement Saturday. "Secretary Esper has been instrumental in securing our nation's streets and ensuring Americans have peace and confidence in the security of their places of business, places of worship, and their homes."

That was stronger than the tentative statements from the press office earlier last week, such as McEnany's "as of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper" and deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley's "when the president loses confidence — if he loses confidence — you’ll know that."

Janison: Senate GOP on tightrope

Other GOP senators didn't join with Alaskan Lisa Murkowski's endorsement of Mattis' attack on Trump. But her remarks matter because Trump and the Senate's Republican majority are as codependent as ever, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

The time has long since passed for any sort of amicable separation. Trump accedes to the Senate's top priorities. The Senate GOP in turn shields him from impeachment. 

If Leader Mitch McConnell loses his majority in the fall elections, the Trump White House will be paralyzed even if it survives. If Biden beats Trump but Republicans keep the Senate, the party's power to obstruct Democratic agendas will still count big.

Biden to visit Floyd family

Biden will travel to Houston on Monday to meet privately with and offer his condolences to the family of Floyd, the man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police launched widespread protests across the nation.

The former vice president also will record a video message to be shown at Floyd's funeral service on Tuesday. Biden is not planning to attend the service because the presumptive Democratic nominee's team did not want his Secret Service protection to cause any disruption for the Tuesday service, people familiar with the decision told CNN.

Trump, who has spoken and tweeted mostly on "LAW AND ORDER!" for the past two weeks, will host a roundtable listening session with law enforcement on Monday “to hear their challenges and input on how to fix racial inequality in American policing,” a White House official tells Axios.

Trump’s political team is described as deeply worried about internal polling regarding the president’s response to the protests. “We need to be seen as meeting the moment and go beyond the crackdown on protesters. The president recognizes that,” an administration official told the political news website.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found voters by a 2-to-1 margin are more troubled by the actions of police in the killing of Floyd than by violence at some protests, and 80% felt the country is spiraling out of control. Nearly three-fourths of Americans view Floyd's death under the knee of a white police officer as a sign of an underlying racial injustice problem, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll.

Schumer pushes housing relief

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Senate Republicans to pass a coronavirus stimulus package that would provide $100 billion in rent relief and $75 billion in aid to homeowners grappling with the economic fallout of the pandemic, reports Newsday's Figueroa and Michael O'Keeffe.

Schumer also revived his call for McConnell to schedule a vote on the so-called Phase 4 relief package. McConnell (R-Ky.) has yet to take up the $3 trillion Heroes Act, passed by House Democrats last month to provide financial aid to state and municipalities that have seen their budgets depleted while responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Newsday's Tom Brune reports that New York State has committed about $1.9 billion in direct spending to address the coronavirus pandemic in the two months since mid-March, and it estimates it will spend up to $5 billion by the end of the year, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget office. New York City and other local governments including Nassau and Suffolk counties also made about another $1 billion in requests for the state’s Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, bringing the state’s total to as much as $3 billion, the budget office told Newsday.

Like many other state and local governments, New York State is using its own funds now to cover the expenditures it has made to address the coronavirus epidemic and putting off using federal funds Congress approved in four sweeping aid packages in March and April. Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the state budget division, said the state is awaiting "clarity and consistent guidance" from Washington on various funding questions.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo and Joie Tyrrell. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • A retweet by Trump campaign senior adviser Mercedes Schlapp touted a video clip showing a Texas man yelling the N-word and chasing away anti-racism demonstrators with a chain saw. After Politico inquired, Schlapp posted another version with the racial slur muted. After Politico published a story, she deleted both retweets and apologized, saying she hadn't watched the full video. "I would never knowingly promote the use of that word," Schlapp said. She didn't share any further reflections about the chain saw.
  • Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of homeland security, went further than other Trump officials in rejecting the notion of systemic racism in law enforcement. He told CNN on Sunday that he does not believe that Floyd's life would have been spared if he were white.
  • The Trump campaign is looking for a new slogan, The Washington Post reports. "Make America Great Again" and "Keep America Great" sound off the mark under current conditions, and Trump's "Transition to Greatness!" hasn't caught on. Also in development: a new nickname for Biden to replace "Sleepy Joe."
  • Former national security adviser John Bolton plans to publish in late June his long-delayed tell-all memoir about serving Trump even if the White House, which held it up over alleged classification issues, does not give publication approval, The Washington Post reported.
  • Wichita State University disinvited Ivanka Trump as a virtual commencement speaker after an uproar from students, faculty and alumni because of her father's response to the police brutality protests. The president's elder daughter said she was a victim of "cancel culture and viewpoint discrimination." She added, "Listening to one another is important now more than ever!"
  • If Friday's jobs report showing 13.3% unemployment in May, for which many economists predicted more than 20%, seemed too good to be true, that's because in a way, it was, The Washington Post reported. A note at the bottom of the government report said the rate would have been about 3 points higher if not for a "misclassification error." The glitches included furloughed workers who should have been classified as "temporarily unemployed," but were counted as "absent" from work for "other reasons."
  • Utah's Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, joined a Black Lives Matter march in Washington on Sunday. He walked along Pennsylvania Avenue with a large group of evangelical Christians.

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