President Trump arrives Saturday at the White House.
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Updated at 5:45 p.m. ET
President Trump on Monday called governors weak and urged them to “dominate” to prevent further violent demonstrations following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck.
Trump’s comments came during a contentious phone call with state leaders to discuss the chaotic protests. Two people on the call briefed NPR of its content, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put out a statement that said the call was “deeply disturbing.”
Whitmer said Trump told governors to “put it down.” One person who told NPR about the call said Trump urged governors to send lawbreaking protesters to jail “for a long time,” and he repeatedly told them to use the military.
“We have a wonderful military,” Trump said, according to that source.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president urged governors to act and deploy National Guard troops. She said Trump used the word “dominate” in reference to the streets and keeping the peace, not regarding handling protesters.
“The president has made clear that what we are seeing on America’s streets is unacceptable,” McEnany said during a press briefing. “Violence, looting, anarchy, lawlessness are not to be tolerated.”
Whitmer, a Democrat who has clashed with the president on responding to the coronavirus, added of the call: “The president repeatedly and viciously attacked governors, who are doing everything they can to keep the peace while fighting a once-in-a-generation global pandemic.”
In response, McEnany said she doesn’t “know why Gov. Whitmer would be dismayed at the president telling governors to do their job.”
One source described the question-and-answer session between Trump and the governors as combative.
“I’ve been incredibly concerned by some of the rhetoric that’s being used by you,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, told the president, according to the source.
The president reportedly replied: “I don’t like your rhetoric much, either.”
The Republican president spent much of the weekend on Twitter decrying protests that turned violent as a failure of Democratic state and local leaders not acting aggressively enough in quelling them.
Protesters held large-scale demonstrations Sunday across the United States, expressing outrage over Floyd’s death and more broadly at police brutality.
In many cities, including Minneapolis, Atlanta and Seattle, some protesters clashed with police, looted businesses and set buildings and cars on fire. Protests were also held outside the White House in Washington, D.C.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — a state that saw its own protests over the weekend in response to the killings of both Floyd and 26-year-old Breonna Taylor at the hands of police — called on state and local law enforcement to “crack down” on protesters, lest the federal government get involved and do so for them.
“This cannot continue. It has already gone on for entirely too long,” McConnell, a Republican, said. “I hope state and local authorities will work quickly to crack down on outside agitators and domestic terrorists and restore some order to our cities. And if state and local leaders cannot or will not secure the peace and protect citizens and their property, I hope the federal government is ready to stand in the breach.”
The general Republican consensus surrounding the recent rash of protests differs significantly from their stance on other recent demonstrations, particularly those in the Democratic-led state of Michigan, wherein armed protesters last month stormed the streets and the statehouse to demand a reopening of the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In that instance, President Trump referred to the crowd, which appeared to be largely white, as “very good people” who were justifiably upset at the disruption the pandemic had caused to their lives and livelihoods. In response to the protests against police brutality, which have broken out in looting in some instances, the president last week appeared to threaten to have Americans participating shot by the military.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Congress to address protesters’ concerns through legislation on police reform.
“At this delicate time, the Senate should lead on these issues rather than aggravate the problem. Leader McConnell should commit to put a law enforcement reform bill on the floor of the Senate before July 4,” Schumer said.
“As the COVID pandemic continues to rage and Americans are taking to the streets to express their anger at police violence and racial injustice, the Republican majority in the Senate must focus on the national crises at our doorstep.”
Kelsey Snell, Krishnadev Calamur and Benjamin Swasey contributed to this report.