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Trump claims National Guard called Washington DC operation with pepper balls and tear gas 'a walk in the park'

President issues hawkish message on day he could announce policing reforms – though he keeps sending mixed signals

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Thursday 11 June 2020 14:20 BST
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National Guard called in as White House protest turns violent

Donald Trump claimed Thursday morning that National Guard personnel assured him clearing the area around the White House last week, an operation that included "pepper balls" and tear gas, was a "walk in the park."

The president's hawkish, anti-protester tweet came about three hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for Dallas, where he will participate in a roundtable with faith leaders and law enforcement officials following protests stemming from George Floyd's death in police custody. He also could announce or at least describe an executive order directing some policing reforms – but officials have yet to confirm he will do so in Texas.

The tweet showed again how the president and his White House have sent mixed signals about policing and the need for changes. He and his team have called the death of Mr Floyd, a black man, under the knee of a white police officer a "tragedy" and called for "justice" for his family. But Mr Trump also has defended law enforcement officers, including two in Buffalo, New York, who pushed down a 75-year-old man then walked away and bled onto a sidewalk.

"Our great National Guard Troops who took care of the area around the White House could hardly believe how easy it was. 'A walk in the park', one said," the president tweeted without identifying the trooper or describing how he learned of the assessment of the DC Guard's time in and around Lafayette Park across from the White house grounds amid sometimes-violent protests that grew more peaceful late last week.

Even as team Trump has said the president is choosing between a menu of police reform options and likely will sign onto a coming Senate Republican bill being crafted by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the GOP caucus' lone black member, they have time and again pivoted back to their base.

That has caused some Democrats to wonder whether the president really is in a political position to back major changes, despite public opinion polls saying most Americans want reforms. His conservative base is solidly pro-cop and opposed the protests in many major US cities. One recent poll showed 64 per cent of Americans disapprove of the president's response to the Floyd death protests, and 69 per cent say the killing shows larger problems within America's police departments.

"The protesters, agitators, anarchists (ANTIFA), and others, were handled VERY easily by the Guard, D.C. Police, & S.S. GREAT JOB!" Mr Trump tweeted Thursday morning, appearing unaware of the historical reference in his abbreviation for United States Secret Service.

For instance, even as White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday said Mr Trump is open to policing reforms, she told reporters he would not sign legislation or an executive order that would end "qualified immunity" for police officers.

The term refers to protections that shield officers from being sued if they violate a citizens constitution rights – unless those actions broke federal law.

Including such a provision in the Senate Republicans' bill, she said, would be a "non-starter" for Mr Trump.

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