Trump Tweets Inflame Protests Sparked By George Floyd's Death

Jun 1, 2020
Originally published on June 1, 2020 8:37 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The remark of a protester outside the White House yesterday illustrated the dilemma for the man inside. People who gathered in front of the White House included a man who asked to be identified only as J (ph). He said he would like the president to address the country about the death of George Floyd. But he also would not like that.

J: We need Donald Trump to do something. And he won't even come out and address his country. Innocent black man was killed, not for the first time, not for the second time. Come outside and address the people. Do something.

INSKEEP: If he came out and tried to say something calming, would you trust or believe anything that he said?

J: No. I mean, honestly, no.

INSKEEP: Remember, the president addressed the nation in March early in the pandemic, and many people grew more anxious rather than less so. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has been tracking the president's response to this crisis. Hi there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: The president hasn't been completely silent, has he?

KEITH: Well, he spoke on Saturday. He was at an event for the NASA SpaceX launch. And at the start of his remarks, he did say that George Floyd's death was a tragedy and also said that he supports peaceful protests but that the memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists. But since then, a lot has happened - a lot has happened. And the president has been silent. We haven't seen him. He did not come out in public on Sunday. He didn't make remarks. The White House has not responded to multiple requests for information about what he's doing or whether he might deliver an address to the nation.

And on Sunday, the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, tweeted that reports were false that pointed out that the president hadn't spoken in a day. And she then - they weren't false - and she pointed back to Saturday's remarks. But as you say and as the protester you were talking to says, there's a lot of downside risk for the president and not necessarily a lot of upside.

INSKEEP: Although the president has certainly been busy on Twitter.

KEITH: As he often is. And many of those tweets are in the category of stoking division rather than calming. There were a series of all caps exclamation point tweets, fake news exclamation point, law and order exclamation point, strength and then also a number of tweets disparaging Democrats, telling them to call in the National Guard and essentially blaming state and local leaders for the unrest in America's cities.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is the only black Republican in the Senate, commented on the president's tweets on Fox News Sunday.

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TIM SCOTT: Well, those are not constructive tweets, without any question.

KEITH: He was specifically referring to some tweets that referenced dogs and guns behind the White House gates. I'll note that the White House lights were dimmed last night. The spotlights that normally shine on the White House were cut at 11 p.m.

INSKEEP: Scott was talking about some kind of commission that would lead a conversation around race. The president interested in that?

KEITH: Today, he has meetings that are not open to the press with the attorney general and then a call with governors and law enforcement. So that's the direction he's headed now, more of a law and order direction, at least for now.

INSKEEP: Tamara, thanks for the update.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.