As civil unrest over the death of George Floyd and other Black victims of police brutality continued to rock cities across the U.S., lawmakers and leaders implored President Donald Trump on Sunday to cease his inflammatory commentary.
Democrats and some Republicans expressed concern over Trump’s rhetoric, with some saying his comments were fueling violence and exacerbating the tense situation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told ABC’s “This Week” that she is largely ignoring Trump’s statements, which she said serve as “bait” to divert from the root issues that prompted the protests.
“I think to take his bait time and time again is just a gift to him because he always wants to divert attention from what the cause of the response was,” she said.
Early Friday morning, as demonstrations in Minneapolis again boiled over into violent clashes with police after days of unrest, Trump tweeted calling protesters “THUGS.”
“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” the president wrote, invoking a racist phrase originally coined by an aggressive Miami police chief at the peak of the 1960s civil rights protests. Trump later attempted to walk back his use of the phrase.
And on Saturday morning, Trump threatened protesters who had rallied outside the White House with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” if they were to breach the fence. He has also repeatedly lashed out at Democratic leaders as they attempt to control the violence in their cities.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) drew comparisons between Trump’s rhetoric now and at the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, where he claimed there were some “very fine people” on both sides. Those remarks drew bipartisan backlash. Bottoms said on CNN Sunday that Trump is “making it worse.”
“This is not about using military force. This is about where we are in America. We are beyond a tipping point in this country, and his rhetoric only inflames that, and he should sometimes just stop talking,” she said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, also said Trump’s message is intensifying the situation.
“That’s not helpful. It’s not lowering the temperature,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” when discussing Trump’s tweets. “It’s sort of continuing to escalate the rhetoric. I think it’s just the opposite of the message that should have been coming out of the White House.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), too, spoke out against Trump’s tweets. “Those are not constructive tweets, without any question,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Scott said that he’d spoken with the president and advised him that it’s “helpful when you lead with compassion.”
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, whom Trump targeted a day earlier, told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday that Trump should start efforts to calm the nation by “not sending divisive tweets that are meant to hearken to the segregationist past of our country.”
“And he can start by doing that right now, we certainly urge him to do that,” she said.
Citing top aides in the West Wing, ABC News and CNN reported that there’s a divide within the White House over whether Trump should formally address the nation to call for calm, given his so-far bumpy message and tendency for escalation.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), recalled Trump’s “inability to condemn Nazis” in the wake of the Charlottesville rally and other past racist comments, saying Trump “no longer has the capacity to break my heart.”
In response to Trump’s comments about the unrest unfolding in her city and around the country, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said the president had “failed in really understanding the kind of pain and anguish many of his citizens are feeling.”
“When you have a president who really is glorifying violence, was talking about the kind of vicious dogs and weapons that could be unleashed on citizens, it is quite appalling and disturbing,” she said.
During a speech Saturday afternoon, Trump offered a more composed tone, urging that “healing, not hatred, justice, not chaos are the mission at hand” and said “the memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters, and anarchists.”
National security adviser Robert O’Brien defended Trump on “CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying the White House supports peaceful demonstrations. When asked about Trump’s inflammatory attacks on protesters and Democratic mayors and use of racist rhetoric, O’Brien insisted, “What he said about those tweets is he wants to deescalate violence and he doesn’t want looting.”