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Trump rages at 'weak' governors, warns he'll use military to crush unrest

Protesters rallying over George Floyd's death are tear-gassed

Protesters rallying over George Floyd's death are tear-gassed and dispersed Monday in Washington near the White House before President Donald Trump's speech and photo-op. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Roberto Schmidt

The strongman cometh?

In his inauguration speech on Jan. 20, 2017, President Donald Trump depicted the nation's cities as combat zones and declared, "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now." With unrest ignited by the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, rocking the country, Trump sees his moment.

Trump on Monday evening, speaking from the White House Rose Garden over the shouts of protesters nearby, declared himself “the president of law and order” and threatened to deploy the U.S. military to American cities to quell violence. Trump said that if governors and mayors didn't use the National Guard to end disorders, he would mobilize “thousands and thousands” of soldiers to “quickly solve the problem for them.”

"I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights," he said.

“We are ending the riots and lawlessness that has spread throughout our country,” he said as sirens and the sounds of flash-bangs echoed in the background. “We will end it now.”

Trump claimed the authority to send the military into cities under the Insurrection Act of 1807, which allows a president to deploy military forces on domestic soil to enforce the law. Officials in some states disputed that the president had unilateral authority to send in troops against their will. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's reaction: “I say thank you, but no thank you.”

The chairman of the House Service Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) urged Trump to reverse course. “The domestic deployment of our armed services is an incredibly serious undertaking that should not be taken lightly," Smith said. "We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship," he added, urging Trump to use the powers of the presidency "to calm tensions across the country, not escalate them."

Trump declared himself an "ally of all peaceful protesters." But shortly before he began to speak, military police and other law enforcement officers using tear gas, flash-bangs, batons and shields to drive noisy but peaceful protesters out of Lafayette Square across Pennsylvania Avenue. Click here for video of Trump's remarks.

Tear-gassed for Trump photo-op

After Trump's remarks, it became clear why the crowds north of the White House were cleared out by force: so the president could walk across the square for a photo-op at historic St. John's Episcopal Church, which suffered fire damage to its basement while rioters were torching property in Washington Sunday night.

Joined by aides and his security detail, Trump held up a Bible outside the church and posed for pictures, then returned to the White House. He did not go in the church or express any religious sentiments there.

Attorney General William Barr personally went to the square to eyeball the demonstrators before police were ordered to move against them.

The stunt outraged the cleric who oversees the church. “I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” the Right Rev. Mariann Budde told The Washington Post. Neither was the church rector, she said. "Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde said of Trump. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us, and has just used one of the most sacred symbols of the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

The move against the demonstrators also angered Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser. "I imposed a curfew at 7pm. A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protesters in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful!" she tweeted. CNN reported that Trump wanted to be seen outside the White House gates after reports revealed he was rushed to a bunker Friday night inside the Executive Mansion.

The jerk store call

Hours before emerging from the White House, Trump spent an hour in the basement Situation Room haranguing the nation's governors on a video conference call and signaling his intentions for a military deployment. “The whole world was laughing” at them, the president jeered.

"Most of you are weak," Trump told them. Demanding more aggressive action to quell unrest, the president said, "If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. They're going to run over you. You're going to look like a bunch of jerks."

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat who tangled with Trump over the coronavirus response, called on Trump to moderate his tone. "The rhetoric coming out of the White House is making it worse,” Pritzker said. Trump shot back: "I don't like your rhetoric much, either."

Some of the Republican governors were supportive. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice told Trump: "I am just exactly like you, and I'm not going to put up with this." But Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker rejected Trump's badgering demands to dominate and fight, telling a news conference after the call: "When the country needed compassion … it was simply nowhere to be found.” Click here for audio of the call.

Janison: Credibility canyon

The violence across the nation cannot be nipped in the bud, as it's bloomed already, and Trump may lack the credibility he needs to make Americans believe he can lead the nation out of the crisis, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Police abuse cases of the type that now trigger destruction and strife never noticeably caused Trump much concern before. His camp regarded it as an issue for the Democrats, who run big cities in blue states and rely on African American constituencies in national elections, to grapple with.

In a tweet in 2014, when disturbances broke out following the killing of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, Trump hit at a "totally fractured" country and "weak leadership" by President Barack Obama. He said China and the rest of the world "laugh at us and our president over the riots in Ferguson!"

It looks like China is laughing at him now. The editor of a Chinese Communist Party newspaper tweeted at Trump: “Mr. President, don’t go hide behind the secret service. Go to talk to the demonstrators seriously. Negotiate with them, just like you urged Beijing to talk to Hong Kong rioters."

Ratings first

The morning after his teargas-enabled photo-op, Trump shared as usual what was on his mind as a world leader — or at least as a TV-obsessed celebrity:

"Yesterday was a bad day for the Cuomo Brothers. 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. NYC was ripped to pieces. Likewise, Fredo’s ratings are down 50%!" the president tweeted Tuesday.

Polarization like you've never seen

It's not unusual for members of Congress to say harsh things about presidents from another party, but Democrats found a new level for Trump, though it wasn't nastier than things he's often said about them. "Donald trump is scum for fueling racist hate and violence in our country," tweeted Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

A few GOP senators were critical in a more circumspect manner. "Some of his tweets have not been helpful and it would be helpful if he would change the tone of his message," said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. "He needs to strike a tone I think that fits the level of frustration the country is experiencing right now, and I hope in the future he’ll do that,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota.

Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, in a blistering thread of tweets at Trump, said: "In fact, you are making things worse on almost every front. Please, go back to your bunker and let the real leaders solve our problems."

But Trump's strongest allies are cheering him on. Before Trump's announcement on the military, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said on Fox News: "Let's see how these anarchists respond when the 101st Airborne is on the other side of the street." In a tweet, Cotton wrote that law enforcement should give "no quarter" to "insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters," using a military term that means taking no prisoners. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida tweeted, “Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?”

Obama: Vote for racial justice

Obama on Monday urged those demanding racial equity in the justice system to make their voices heard at the ballot box, and said, "Let's not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it."

In a post written for Medium, Obama said the protests over the past week, some of which morphed into rioting, were born out of “genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices” and the broader criminal justice system.

Obama said, "The bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn't between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform."

He noted that voting in federal elections was also critical: “the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”

Biden's black church visit

Joe Biden met Monday with community leaders at a black church in Delaware to hear their anguish and condemn Trump's response, The New York Times reported.

After listening for an hour, Biden quoted philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: “Faith sees best in the dark.” The presumptive Democratic nominee added, “And it’s been pretty dark.” He accused Trump of publicly legitimizing the racism that protesters are fighting against.

Trump told: Don't bring your friend

Before his call with the governors, Trump spoke by phone with Vladimir Putin. According to the Kremlin's account, Trump told the Russian president about his wish to invite him and three other nonmember countries to an expanded G-7 summit.

Russia was kicked out after it annexed Crimea in 2014, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they oppose letting Russia join. "Its continued disrespect and flaunting of international rules and norms is why it remains outside of the G-7, and it will continue to remain out," Trudeau said. Johnson's office said "we are yet to see evidence of changed behavior which would justify its readmittance."

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:

  • The White House told all staff members who didn't need to be there to leave by 4 p.m. Monday, three hours ahead of the curfew, CNN reported
  • Trump's visit to the church near the White House won a tweet of approval from Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford): "Historic moment as @POTUS Trump reclaims St. John’s Church for America! God Bless America!!"
  • On the call with governors, Trump alluded to the violence in New York City and said, "I live in Manhattan — what’s going on in Manhattan, I have no idea." Trump changed his residence to Florida last year, but he still has his hometown in his head.
  • Also during the call, Trump urged the governors to push for laws in their states making it a crime to burn the U.S. flag. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1989 declared such laws unconstitutional, with the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia part of the majority, but Trump hoped for a contrary result. "We have a different court and I think that it's time that we review that again," he said.
  • At another point on the call, Maine Gov. Janet Mills of Maine, a Democrat, told the president that his planned trip to a medical swab factory north of Bangor on Friday "may cause security problems.” Trump brushed off her concern, saying he was even more determined to go.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on the Treasury Department to waive replacement fees for Americans who may have inadvertently discarded a federal stimulus payment that arrived in the form of a debit card, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
  • Facebook employees on Monday staged a “virtual walkout” protest over CEO Mark Zuckerberg's refusal to follow Twitter's lead and take action on inflammatory posts by Trump. The employees said they believed the posts violate Facebook’s platform standards that call for removing “language that incites or facilitates serious violence.” Hundreds of employees participated, The New York Times reported.

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