President Donald Trump praised the use of tear gas and other force to disperse Minneapolis protesters, calling it a “beautiful scene” and describing the National Guard’s actions “like a knife cutting butter.”
“I’ll never forget. You saw the scene on that road … they were lined up. Man, they just walked straight. And yes, there was some tear gas and probably some other things,” Trump said in opening remarks at a roundtable on policing and race. “And the crowd dispersed and they went through. By the end of that evening, and it was a short evening, everything was fine.”
Trump’s event at a conservative, evangelical and predominantly white church in Dallas on Thursday afternoon came as the White House has yet to announce what new measures it might support in response to the protests against racial injustice that have gripped the nation since the killing of George Floyd by a police officer.
Trump did not mention Floyd by name in his remarks but suggested the work of confronting bigotry and prejudice will “go quickly and it’ll go very easily.”
“But we’ll make no progress and heal no wounds by falsely labeling tens of millions of decent Americans as racist or bigots,” the president said.
He has largely criticized the protests that took place in cities across the United States, including Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed. Minnesota’s Gov. Tim Walz activated its National Guard after three nights of protests and violent riots; on Thursday, Walz endorsed a package of sweeping police reforms.
In response to the national reckoning over police brutality and America’s systemic racism, Democrats unveiled sweeping police reform legislation, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican member of the Senate, is spearheading proposals in his chamber.
Trump offered some broad outlines of the steps he might embrace to answer the national demand for action. He told the roundtable participants he was working on an executive order to “encourage police departments nationwide to meet the most current professional standards for the use of force, including tactics for de-escalation.”
He defended police officers and slammed calls to “defund” them, saying it means people want to get rid of law enforcement. Most advocates use the term to mean the reallocation of police budgets to social services including housing and education.
“We have to respect our police. We have to take care of our police. They’re protecting us. And if they’re allowed to do their job, they’ll do a great job,” Trump said. “And you always have a bad apple. No matter where you go, you have bad apples and there not too many of them.”
Hours after the event, Trump weighed in on the debate in more provocative terms. “The Radical Left Democrats: First they try to take away your guns. Then they try to take away your police!” he tweeted.
The president’s more concrete actions in the past 24 hours appear aimed at his political base rather than the multiracial nation he governs.
That includes publicly rejecting the idea of renaming military bases whose names honor Confederate military figures — an idea that had been under consideration at the Pentagon — and threatening a federal response to “ugly Anarchists” protesting in Seattle.
Trump’s campaign released an ad Wednesday focused on his self-proclaimed credentials as a law-and-order president while seeking to cast Biden as overly supportive of those who have protested Floyd’s death.
“Antifa destroys our communities. Rioting. Looting. Yet Joe Biden kneels down,” the narrator says, as footage of Biden kneeling at a church in Wilmington, Del., is superimposed over images of violent protests.
Biden, who held an event Thursday in Philadelphia related to recovering economically from the coronavirus crisis, issued a statement ahead of Trump’s trip to Dallas questioning the president’s motives.
“For weeks we’ve seen President Trump run away from a meaningful conversation on systemic racism and police brutality,” the former vice president said. “Instead, he has further divided our country. Today’s trip to Texas won’t change any of that. President Trump is more interested in photo ops than offering a healing voice as our nation mourns.”
At the event, Biden criticized Trump for planning a campaign rally next week in Tulsa, the site of a race massacre in 1921, one of the worst episodes of racial violence in American history. Trump’s rally is set to take place on Juneteenth, a holiday marked on June 19, 1865, when Maj. General Gordon Granger in Texas read an order freeing all slaves.
“He’s going down to Texas on Juneteenth right?” Biden said, although Trump is going to Tulsa. “The first major massacre, literally speaking, of the Black Wall Street, years ago. And he’s gonna have a rally, gonna have a rally. And he doesn’t wear a mask … I mean come on.”
Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said Biden “completely botched his lines” and “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“As the party of Lincoln, Republicans are rightly proud of what Juneteenth represents and of President Trump’s excellent record of achievement for Black Americans,” she said.
After Thursday’s roundtable, Trump was scheduled to attend a high-dollar fund-raiser at a private residence in the city before heading to his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.
The Washington Post’s Matt Viser contributed to this article.