Demonstrators protest against George Floyd's death in pouring rain Thursday...

Demonstrators protest against George Floyd's death in pouring rain Thursday in Lafayette Square, near the White House. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

States of swing

Donald Trump held a crisis meeting in the White House Thursday. The subject was his campaign. The president met with campaign manager Brad Parscale, deputy campaign manager Bill Stepien, pollster Tony Fabrizio, senior aide Jared Kushner and chief of staff Mark Meadows, with a recent spate of battleground-state polling a top topic, CNN reported.

Trump's numbers are plunging in both public and private surveys, and his campaign is beginning to worry about his standing in states like Ohio and Iowa that he carried by wide margins four years ago, The New York Times reported. The campaign recently launched a multimillion-dollar ad effort in those two states as well as Arizona, where a recent Fox News poll also showed him trailing Joe Biden.

Trump's belligerent response to protests after the killing of George Floyd appears to have worsened his political position further, officials in both parties told the Times. A new CBS poll finds 58% of Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of race relations; only 33% approve.

But while Trump has called the death of Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer "a grave tragedy," there's been no follow-up to answer the nationwide protests against repeated episodes of deadly police brutality, except to call for more aggressively restoring "law and order" and threatening to send in the active-duty military to do so.

In a Fox News radio interview Wednesday, host Brian Kilmeade, noting African Americans' distrust of police, asked Trump: "How do you change things?" Trump checked off his usual talking points such as better (pre-pandemic) job numbers and prison reform. Kilmeade pressed Trump twice more: "How do you handle the law enforcement part?" Trump said "everybody has to do better" but offered no ideas. Instead, he pivoted to attacking Biden's record — "he didn't do a thing."

And then the president said: "You know, they want to take your guns away, except now more people have bought guns in the last three, four days than they have in a long time, because when they look out on the streets ... ”

ABC News reported Trump's reelection effort is set to resume in-person campaigning next week for the first time since the coronavirus sidelined his massive ground game in March. The president himself officially hits the campaign trail, holding two in-person fundraisers, one on June 11 at a private home in Dallas and another on June 13 at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, the network said.

General Kelly fact-checks Trump

The latest retired four-star military officer who's done saluting Trump is John Kelly, the president's former chief of staff. Kelly spoke Thursday to The Washington Post in support of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a fellow retired Marine general. Mattis denounced Trump Wednesday as "the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try."

Trump responded Wednesday night with a tweet, saying, "Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General." That's false, said Kelly, who was still at the White House when Mattis quit in December 2018.

"The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation,” Kelly said in an interview. “The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused. The president tweeted a very positive tweet about Jim until he started to see on Fox News their interpretation of his letter. Then he got nasty. Jim Mattis is an honorable man.” That resignation letter laid between the lines Mattis' rebuke of Trump's disregard for longtime foreign allies.

Trump's contention that Obama fired Mattis also is wrong. Mattis had running policy disagreements with Obama's administration, including on Iran policy, but resigned on his own accord.

Janison: Law and order unto himself

Nobody can say for sure that a massive backlash could have been avoided had Trump treated criminal justice issues with less cynicism, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. But his conduct undermines any sunny notion that his regime seeks to execute the nation's laws without political favor.

Trump's attitude toward those in uniform who commit transgressions shines through clearly. Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who campaigned with Trump, was rewarded with a presidential pardon after unwarranted searches, inmate abuse and defiance of a federal judicial order. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who served time for corruption-related felonies, won the same favor.

Convicted Trump associate Roger Stone is expected to be pardoned, too, as Trump has launched partisan attacks on the judge and jury forewoman in the case. Stone is scheduled to report to prison June 30 for lying to Congress and witness tampering, but Trump tweeted of Stone Thursday: "He can sleep well at night!" Ten minutes later, he tweeted: "LAW & ORDER!"

Next for Esper: gone or ghosted?

Mark Esper was still defense secretary on Thursday, a day after going public with his opposition to the president’s threat to deploy active-duty troops to quash protest-related unrest.

When asked on Thursday whether Trump had lost confidence in the defense secretary, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley was noncommittal. “As you know, when the president loses confidence — if he loses confidence — you’ll know that,” Gidley said.

Politico reported that White House aides are gossiping about who could replace him. Alternatively, the embattled defense secretary may be on his way to getting iced out within the administration.

Support for Esper came from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who tweeted: "In these challenging times, the President and the American people are very well-served by the expert advice and principled leadership of people like Secretary Esper and Attorney General [William] Barr."

Knowing by now that flattering Trump never hurts, McConnell went on to write: "I am glad President Trump has assembled such an impressive team that is working hard for all Americans."

Staying in neutral

Most Senate Republicans offered praise and thanks for Mattis' service but stayed out of the line of fire between Trump and the former defense secretary. An exception was Alaska's Lisa Murkowski.

“When I saw General Mattis’ comments yesterday, I felt like perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally, and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up,” she said. She said she is "struggling" with a decision about whether to support Trump in November.

Trump has no such bout with doubt. "Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski," he tweeted.

Secretive police

Federal law enforcement officers in riot gear have been showing up at Washington protests over Floyd's death in unmarked uniforms and offering no indication of which agency they work for, NBC News reported.

They wore no insignia of rank or unit. They carried no badges, and their black tactical vests bore no name plate. Some wore gray cargo pants, others black. Some wore green T-shirts with a Texas flag visible on the shoulder. Others wore black, with the acronym "SORT" partially visible — the only clue that those were federal agents, members of the Bureau of Prisons Special Operations Response Team.

Democrats objected. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced legislation Thursday that would require federal officers in uniform responding to First Amendment assemblies to have their agency and name visibly marked. “President Trump is trying to intimidate peaceful protesters by having unidentified and unaccountable federal law enforcement officers and members of the Armed Forces roam the streets of D.C.,” Murphy said.

Barr told a news briefing Thursday that Bureau of Prisons personnel normally don't identify themselves because they normally don’t operate outside of prisons, but he “probably should’ve done a better job of marking them."

Coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest 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:

  • Trump agreed on Thursday to begin sending to home bases the 82nd Airborne Division troops he had ordered to Washington, The New York Times reported. The president blocked Esper's attempt to order them out on Wednesday. Those forces never deployed in Washington; they stayed on standby outside the city.
  • Trump called off an expected weekend trip to his golf resort in Bedminster amid the ongoing nationwide protests. It would have been the president's first overnight trip since March. Gov. Phil Murphy said earlier that demonstrations were likely if Trump went there.
  • Organizers have scrapped plans to mandate social distancing during Trump’s appearance at a July 3 Mount Rushmore fireworks display and won’t limit the crowd for coronavirus concerns. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, said the National Park Service is doling out 7,500 tickets via lottery for the event.
  • An article in the influential British medical journal Lancet that found hydroxychloroquine increased the risk of death in COVID-19 patients was retracted on Thursday, adding to the controversy around a drug championed by Trump. Three of the authors of the article cited concerns about the quality and veracity of data in that study.
  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is placing holds on two Trump nominees until the president explains his recent firings of two inspectors general.
  • The president signed an executive order Thursday instructing agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines and other projects, given the current “economic emergency,” The Washington Post reported.
  • Trump named two bare-knuckled veteran operatives of his campaigns, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, to serve on the Commission on Presidential Scholars. The panel honors exemplary high school seniors.
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