President Trump Urges Governors To 'Dominate' Unruly Protests

Jun 1, 2020
Originally published on June 1, 2020 7:00 pm
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

After days of grappling with how to respond to nationwide protests, President Trump addressed the nation tonight from the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My administration is fully committed that for George and his family, justice will be served. He will not have died in vain. But we cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob.

CHANG: Protests continued outside the gates and around the country as the president spoke. And for more on this, we're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right, so tell us more about what the president said in his remarks tonight.

LIASSON: Well, the president went on to say after what you just heard him say that - he said, I am your president of law and order. I will protect all peaceful people. And he talked about professional anarchists, arsonists, looters, antifa, rioters. Those are the enemies. And he said that he is going to mobilize the military. He's going to dispatch thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers to stop the rioting in Washington, D.C. And he said that any mayor or governor that does not decide to deploy the National Guard to, as he put it, dominate the streets, he will - as he put it, I will quickly solve the problem for them. I will deploy the military.

CHANG: Right. I mean, the president has been putting a lot of pressure on governors to deploy more National Guard across all the states or all the states where protests are...

LIASSON: And many governors have.

CHANG: And many governors have. Tell us more what the president has been saying about - not only during his remarks today but earlier in a phone call with the governors about bringing in the National Guard.

LIASSON: The president had a very contentious phone call with the governors. He said over and over again, you have to dominate. You have to dominate. If you don't, you'll look like jerks. He said that the violent protesters needed to be arrested and serve long prison terms. When one of the governors, Pritzker of Illinois, said that he was concerned about the president's rhetoric, the president said he was concerned about the - Gov. Pritzker's rhetoric. And he has been going back to the law and order position that he has taken ever since he ran for president. This is where he's most comfortable. And he has been doing something that's a little bit like what he did during the coronavirus pandemic, where he says, I'm totally in charge, but the governors are responsible. In other words, he says, if the governors fail, we'll step in. And that's pretty much what he said during the pandemic.

CHANG: I also want to talk about the timing of these remarks tonight. I mean, usually during times of crisis, we see presidents give an address to the nation. President Trump has hesitated to do so. We're hearing from him tonight, a full week after George Floyd's death. Tell us why the delay.

LIASSON: Well, I think there was a real debate inside the White House about when the president should talk and, also, what should he say? Remember. He's had two different messages. One - there should be justice for George Floyd. But two - the louder message has been that we have to be very tough on the protesters. The Democratic governors and mayors have been weak. They haven't controlled the violence. In his Twitter feed, his language has been very harsh. He's talked about vicious dogs, ominous weapons. And I think that he - they've been really trying to figure out what message he should send.

Now, there is a risk. The president said tonight, this stops right now. What if it doesn't stop right now? Will he look ineffective? The other question for him is even though he is clearly the law-and-order candidate, a law-and-order politician, he's also the candidate of chaos and disruption. And there is a risk that people will get tired of it and just decide that he is not - he's not exhibiting the kind of leadership that is needed in this moment. He's a tough guy who wants to crack down, not someone who wants to heal and unite.

CHANG: Right. That is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.