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Bunkered down behind White House gates, Trump plays inside agitator

Secret Service outside the White House on Sunday

Secret Service outside the White House on Sunday night as demonstrators protest the Minneapolis death of George Floyd and Trump's response to the death and protests. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Samuel Corum

Dividing lines

Some of Donald Trump's advisers and media allies thought presidential leadership called for him to address the nation, to be a voice of calming and healing as protests and riots ignited by the police killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, plunged the nation into the most widespread unrest in a half-century. Trump didn't because he had nothing to say, no tangible action or policy to announce and doesn't feel a need to bring people together, a senior official told The Washington Post.

Instead, Trump on Sunday chose to stick to his Twitter megaphone and heap blame on Democrats. After many weeks of failing to shift attention from a pandemic that killed has 100,000-plus and economic devastation with cries of an "Obamagate" conspiracy and a fictional murder by an MSNBC host, Trump has seized on the coast-to-coast conflagration as a new opportunity. “He’s been over coronavirus for a long time,” a veteran Trump adviser told the Post, describing a president itching for "a fistfight” with Joe Biden.

Said one tweet: "Get tough Democrat Mayors and Governors...The World is watching and laughing at you and Sleepy Joe." He complained of Democratic governors not calling in the National Guard, though many have. In a belligerent echo of his widely condemned tweet early Friday — "When the looting starts, the shooting starts" — Trump on Sunday retweeted a right-wing podcaster who said, "This isn’t going to stop until the good guys are willing to use overwhelming force against the bad guys." (In some places, law enforcement officials have defused tensions with gestures of support for protesters.)

Trump on Saturday encouraged his "MAGA" supporters to show up outside the White House, where the Secret Service, reinforced by D.C. police and U.S. Park Police, have been holding back demonstrators from a security perimeter. It appears none took him up on it. More than 60 Secret Service personnel were injured from Friday night through Sunday morning near the White House, according to a statement from the agency. White House executive office staff received an email urging them to stay away, if possible, due to "ongoing demonstrations."

It's probably for the best that Trump doesn't address the nation, said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who forcefully and passionately denounced violence-bent protesters. "He should just stop talking. This is like Charlottesville all over again," Bottoms, a Democrat, said on CNN's "State of the Union." "He speaks and he makes it worse. There are times when you should just be quiet, and I wish that he would just be quiet," unless "somebody of good sense and good conscience" could "put him in front of a teleprompter and pray he reads it and at least says the right things."

It wasn't just Democrats who called out Trump. South Carolina's Tim Scott — the only black Republican in the Senate and a sometime sounding board on conservative African American viewpoints — told "Fox News Sunday" that Trump's tweets are “not constructive tweets, without any question.”

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called them "just the opposite of the message that should have been coming out of the White House.” For more on political reaction to the Floyd killing, the protests and Trump, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Scott Eidler.

Friday night frights

As bricks and bottles flew outside the White House gates, Secret Service agents nervous for the president's safety rushed him Friday night to the underground bunker used in the past during terrorist attacks, The New York Times reported.

While in the end, officials said, they were never really in danger, Trump and his family have been rattled by the protests outside the Executive Mansion, the report said.

In tweets Saturday morning, Trump didn't mention his emergency sheltering, but he praised the Secret Service and said anyone who breached the fence would have "been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen."

Cold-calling condolences

Trump made a condolence call on Friday to Floyd's family, but a brother of Floyd, who died last week after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee against his neck on the ground for nearly nine minutes, said they didn't come away consoled. 

It was "so fast" and "he didn’t give me an opportunity to even speak,” Philonise Floyd told MSNBC on Saturday. “It was hard. I was trying to talk to him, but he just kept, like, pushing me off, like ‘I don’t want to hear what you’re talking about.’ ”

Floyd said he also spoke to Biden and poured his heart out to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

"I asked Vice President Biden — I never had to beg a man before — but I asked him, could he please, please get justice for my brother," he said.

"I loved his conversation. He talked to me for like 10 to 15 minutes," Floyd told CNN. "I was talking his ear off because he was talking to me constantly. A great conversation."

Janison: Bone spurs? Look lower

Trump keeps getting caught flat-footed when called on to confront crises, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

As Minneapolis was blowing up, setting off a chain reaction of unrest across the nation, Trump's most impactful contribution was his "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" tweet. His posturing about deploying the military and blaming the left came long after forces and players that set the disturbances in motion were well underway.

Inflammatory and ineffectual went hand in hand last week with his executive order seeking, with no clear legal force behind it, to crack down on Twitter and retaliate for the platform fact-checking a pair of his tweets attacking mail-in voting.

For the second time this year, Trump appears to be adjusting his political posture to big events in China for which he seemed unprepared. First it was blaming China for the coronavirus after previously hailing its response. Now he's pushing measures to punish Beijing for threatening Hong Kong's autonomy. Last year, as pro-democracy demonstrators filled the streets in Hong Kong, Trump said, "We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi [Jinping].”

Crime, yes, but organized?

Trump tweeted on Sunday that the U.S. government would be “designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.”

The loosely defined movement of radical activists, known for street fighting with right-wing groups in recent years, is blamed for committing much of the violence and vandalism alongside more peaceful protesters against police brutality.

The problems with the announcement, Politico reports, is that Trump doesn’t appear to have the legal authority make such a designation, and that it’s not clear "antifa" is an organization at all. Short for anti-fascists, it's an umbrella description for some far-left-leaning militant groups.

Attorney General William Barr on Sunday that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces would work to identify suspects in the rioting and coordinate the efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Barr did not invoke laws against terrorism, which do not let the U.S. government designate purely homegrown groups as terrorist organizations — a reason the FBI has given for not applying the designation to violent far-right groups, though it has made them a top priority.

A report from the Department of Homeland Security finds extremist groups across the ideological spectrum — from the white-supremacist right as well as the radical left and anarchists — are attempting to exploit the demonstrations, ABC News reported.

Biden visits protest site

Biden on Sunday visited a site in Wilmington, Delaware, where protests over Floyd's death took place the night before.

"We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us," Biden wrote on Twitter and Facebook, alongside a picture of him on one knee, wearing a mask and speaking to an African American man holding a child. "We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us."

Wilmington saw what at first appeared to be peaceful protests turn violent Saturday as some demonstrators began looting businesses.

Poll: Trump lags Biden

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll found Trump 10 points behind Biden among registered voters. The gap narrowed to 5 points among those who say they are certain to vote, pointing to the president still enjoying an enthusiasm advantage from those on his side.

Trump's approval slipped to 45%, with 53% disapproving, tracking worsening ratings for his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The polling was conducted over four days, ending on Thursday as urban clashes over the Floyd killing were growing, so it's too early to know what impact the unrest will have on Trump's standing.

Coronavirus news

See a roundup of the pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo and David Reich-Hale. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Trump announced he is sending Brazil more than 2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, the antimalarial drug he still touts for treating the coronavirus even as it has fallen into growing disfavor among U.S. medical experts.
  • One reason Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious diseases expert, is being seen less often is that Trump was growing weary of sharing the spotlight, The Washington Post reports. “The killer for [Fauci] was when Brad Pitt played him on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” said a former administration official. “Trump really can’t stand it when you get bigger and more popular than him. … Getting you off TV is the way he brings you down.”
  • After German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to come to Washington, Trump announced he is postponing the G-7 meeting until at least September. Trump also wants to invite four additional countries — Russia, Australia, India and South Korea — and make it the "G-11." His past attempts to include Russia were shot down by the other G-7 nations.
  • Michigan Republicans say Trump is alienating voters in a state that was a key to his 2016 victory, The New York Times reports. Rep. Fred Upton, the longest-serving member of Michigan’s congressional delegation, said he and other Republicans in the state have been dismayed by the president's repeated return to taunts, insults and conspiracy theories.
  • The Republican National Committee is asking North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to make a decision by Wednesday on allowing big crowds at the Republican National Convention.

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