(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump demanded a crackdown on protests that have rocked cities across the country over the past three days, berating U.S. governors for their “weak” approach to violence and spurning calls for him to strike a more conciliatory tone.
“You have to dominate,” Trump said Monday in a video conference with governors and law enforcement. “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.”
Trump has seized on protests against police brutality toward people of color to portray himself as an icon of law and order eschewing the soothing role past presidents have adopted in similar moments as he seeks to turn the election-year conversation from his widely criticized handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
On the Monday call, Trump delivered his most strident message yet as cities across the country impose curfews and governors deploy the National Guard to try to head off another destructive evening. Many other peaceful protests also are underway mourning the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and demanding an end of police violence directed at African Americans and other minorities.
Trump scolded governors on the call, threatening to intervene in their states without specifying his authority to do so.
“We’re strongly looking for arrests, we do have to get much tougher, you’re going to get overridden.” At another point, the president said: “Most of you are weak.”
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Among Trump’s parting words to the governors and law enforcement on Monday were: “Go out there and get ‘em.”
Concern about protests near the White House prompted officials to tell staff to leave by 4 p.m. on Monday, according to two people familiar with the matter. Violent protests outside the White House on Friday prompted security officials to take Trump to a secure area as a condition “red” was declared. Officials in Washington plan to enforce a mandatory curfew starting at 7 p.m. local time for the next two days.
The president is seeking to cast the protests in partisan terms. He has blamed Antifa, a loosely organized leftist movement that is a frequent target of conservative critics, and said he would declare the group to be terrorists.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday also decried looting and arson and called for a crackdown on “outside agitators and domestic terrorists.” But in remarks on the Senate floor, the Kentucky Republican also said there must be “swift justice under law” in the recent cases of black citizens killed at the hands of police, saying the nation has “real work to do” in the struggle for equality.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, on Monday held his first public campaign event in more than two months and met with black leaders at the Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden was pressed to detail what he’d do to address injustice, and said he would set up a national police oversight board in his first 100 days as president and would ensure coronavirus relief efforts would “deal with institutional racism.”
‘Fueling Racist Hate’
Some Democrats said Trump’s approach will inflame tensions.
“Instead of offering support or offering leadership to bring down the temperature, he said to put it down,” said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “I fear that it will only lead to more violence and destruction.”
Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts said in a tweet that Trump “is scum for fueling racist hate and violence in our country.”
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, said Trump’s rhetoric was making things worse and called on McConnell to commit to a package of policing reforms before July 4th.
“The president seems unable even to address the issues that the protests are about, unwilling, unwilling even to speak to the nation about racial justice,” Schumer said.
Some governors, including Andrew Cuomo of New York, have tried to use Floyd’s death to focus on stopping police misconduct.
“Use this moment to galvanize public support,” the governor said. “Use that outrage to actually make a change.”
Biden Is Challenged by Black Leaders Amid National Protests
Police in Minneapolis on Friday arrested Derek Chauvin, the officer who was seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck during an arrest.
Floyd, who was on the ground and handcuffed at the time, died after saying he couldn’t breathe. The episode prompted a nationwide outcry and set off protests around the country. In Minneapolis, some of those protests turned violent, and on Thursday the police station where Chauvin worked was burned.
Occupy Wall Street Comparison
Trump compared the protests to the Occupy Wall Street movement that followed the last financial crisis.
“It’s a movement that if you don’t put it down, it’ll get worse and worse,” Trump said.
Bloomberg News obtained an audio recording of Trump’s comments, which were reported earlier by CBS News.
Trump praised the U.S. Secret Service’s protection in his discussion with state officials after demonstrators skirmished with the U.S. Secret Service in Lafayette Square across from the White House late Friday.
“We’re going to clamp down very very strong,” Trump said. “You’ve got to arrest people, you have to try people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again, and you have to let them know that.”
An area of downtown Washington, near the White House, suffered “significant damage” from protests, including a fire set in the lobby of the AFL-CIO union headquarters, said the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser. Another was set in the annex of the more than 200-year-old Saint John’s Church across the street from the White House.
Trump criticized the police response to protests in Minnesota. He called the state a “laughing stock” that allowed protesters to take over.
He also criticized the response in several other cities.
“New York is going to have to toughen up and we’ll send you National Guard if you want,” Trump said.
“Philadelphia better toughen up,” he said.
(Updates with remarks by McConnell in 10th paragraph, Schumer in 15th)
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