Wielding extraordinary federal authority, President Donald Trump threatened the nation’s governors on Monday that he would deploy the military to states if they did not stamp out violent protests over police brutality that have roiled the nation over the past week. His announcement came as police under federal command forced back peaceful demonstrators with tear gas in Washington, D.C., so he could walk to a nearby church and pose with a Bible.
Mr. Trump’s bellicose rhetoric came as the nation convulsed through another round of violence over the death of George Floyd at a time when the country is already struggling with the coronavirus outbreak and the Depression-level unemployment it has caused. The president demanded an end to the heated protests in remarks from the White House Rose Garden and vowed to use more force to achieve that aim.
If governors throughout the country do not deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers to “dominate the streets,” Mr. Trump said the U.S. military would step in to “quickly solve the problem for them.”
“We have the greatest country in the world,” the president declared. “We’re going to keep it safe.”
Several Democratic governors on Monday pushed back against Mr. Trump's threat to deploy the U.S. military unless they dispatch National Guard units.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he doesn't believe the federal government can send military troops into his state. He accused the president of creating an “incendiary moment” by threatening to do just that to quell violence that has arisen as demonstrators have taken to the streets in reaction to the killing of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I reject the notion that the federal government can send troops into the state of Illinois," Mr. Pritzker said on CNN.
Mr. Pritzker was among the first governors to react to Mr. Trump's comments, which came hours after the president called governors “weak” and urged them to take a more aggressive response to weekend violence. It came as Americans gathered to protest police brutality against black Americans following the killing of Mr. Floyd, who was handcuffed and on the ground pleading for air as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck for several minutes.
Some demonstrations have turned violent, with people breaking into and stealing from businesses, smashing car windows, and setting fires.
A military deployment by Mr. Trump to U.S. states would mark a stunning federal intervention rarely seen in modern American history. Yet the message Mr. Trump appeared to be sending with the pushback of protesters outside the White House was that he sees few limits to what he is willing to do.
Some around the president likened the moment to 1968, when Richard Nixon ran as the law-and-order candidate in the aftermath of a summer of riots, capturing the White House. But despite his efforts to portray himself as a political outsider, Mr. Trump is an incumbent who risks being held responsible for the violence.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not deployed the state's National Guard to New York City, although he said earlier Monday the state had 13,000 troops that “we can use at any moment.”
“I say thank you but no thank you," Mr. Cuomo said on CNN about Mr. Trump's call to send military troops to the states.
At least 23 states and the District of Columbia had already deployed guard troops as of Monday morning, according to a statement from the National Guard. It wasn't clear whether the action would be enough to satisfy the president. Mr. Trump took no questions from reporters and did not say how he would decide whether a state's response was sufficient.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who has activated the state's guard, said in a statement he prays “no soldier and no civilian is injured or killed by this reckless fit.”
“This president has repeatedly proven he is incapable of governing and shown nothing but false bravado throughout the chaos that has accompanied his time in office," Mr. Inslee said in a statement.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, also a Democrat, said any suggestions the state's National Guard is ill equipped to handle the states needs is “misinformed.” "As the Commander In Chief of the Nevada National Guard I can state, categorically, that they have done their duty to protect all Nevadans, and will continue to do so.”
In neighboring Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown said the violence is being perpetrated by a small segment of demonstrators. She refused to deploy the National Guard on Sunday at Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s request because she was concerned it would escalate a tense situation, but on Monday activated 50 unarmed guard members in support roles.
“You don’t defuse violence by putting soldiers on the streets,” Ms. Brown, a Democrat, said earlier Monday in reaction to Mr. Trump's comments about governors being weak in their response. “Trump wants governors to deploy the National Guard as a show of force to intimidate the public. I want to ensure that the public can safely raise their voices in this much-needed call for reform.”
She didn't immediately comment on Mr. Trump's remarks about deploying the U.S. military.
Nor did California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has deployed thousands of guard troops to Los Angeles and other cities. He called Mr. Trump's morning comments “noise” and avoided addressing them directly, although he said the nation is desperate for leadership.
Guard members can assist law enforcement and perform duties such as traffic control, communications support, and extinguishing fires.
This story was reported by The Associated Press. Ms. Superville reported from Washington, and Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Morrison reported from Minneapolis. AP writers Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon; Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washingtonj; and Michelle Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
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