The roundtable did include faith leaders, law enforcement representatives, small business owners and senior members of the Trump administration. The President warned against blanket descriptions of Americans as racist or bigoted, insisting that “Americans are good and virtuous people.”
“We have to work together to confront bigotry and prejudice wherever they appear, but will make no progress and heal no wounds by falsely labeling tens of millions of decent Americans as racist or bigots,” Trump said.
While the President has said he sympathizes with peaceful protesters marching after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Trump has a history of stoking racial animus, including calling some protesters “thugs” and threatening to deploy the military to “dominate” looters.
On Thursday, Trump repeatedly lauded police forces and described those who used excessive force as “bad apples.” And instead of speaking about police violence against black people, Trump decried officers who are targeted in the line of duty. He also suggested his attempts at racial reconciliation would go “quickly and easily.”
“We have so many different elements of strength in this country, we have such potential in this country, we have the greatest potential,” he said. “But we get off-subject and we start thinking about things that don’t matter or don’t matter much. The important things, we don’t even discuss but we are here to discuss very important things today.”
The President tried to get back to politics as usual amid the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing protests against police brutality, hosting a roundtable to discuss health, economic and justice disparities. He is expected to attend a multimillion dollar reelection fundraiser.
Three key black law enforcement officials in the region — the region’s police chief, sheriff and district attorney — were not invited to the roundtable, CNN has confirmed. However, the Glenn Heights Police Chief Vernell E. Dooley, who is African American, was invited. Glenn Heights is south of Dallas and has a population of about 16,000 people.
The Dallas Morning News first reported that the three officials had been left out.
The President also confirmed during his remarks that the White House is finalizing an executive order on policing standards in the wake of national outcry over Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minnesota. Trump said the order “will encourage police departments nationwide to meet the most current, professional standards for the use of force, including tactics for de-escalation.”
Explaining what standards of force the executive order would call for, Trump said it “means force, but force with compassion.”
“But if you’re really going to have to do a job where somebody’s really bad, you’re going to have to do it with real strength, real power,” he added.
The roundtable took place at the Gateway Church Dallas Campus, where some audience members sat shoulder-to-shoulder and many did not wear masks — even as Texas has recently reported the highest number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations since the pandemic started.
Responding to a request for comment, a White House official passed along a list of attendees, which include other law enforcement officials and representatives from police associations.
Past public conversations the White House has facilitated with the African American community have mainly included conservative allies, religious leaders and law enforcement. They have not included civil rights leaders, local activists and organizers involved in demonstrations over George Floyd’s death or the families of individuals who died as a result of police brutality.
During the roundtable and in similar meetings throughout the week, Trump has tried to relay his perceived victories for the African American community — namely, criminal justice reform, opportunity zones and the general state of the economy. He’s also used the meetings to call against defunding police departments.
But he’s continued to stand by his inflammatory rhetoric, which has often stoked racial tensions. In an interview with Fox News after the roundtable, Trump defended his use of the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which, when he tweeted it last month, Twitter flagged for “glorifying violence.”
In a clip of the interview released Thursday night, Harris Faulkner, a black journalist with Fox News, asked the President where he thought the phrase came from.
“I think Philadelphia, the mayor of Philadelphia,” the President said.
“No,” Faulkner answered. “It comes from 1967. I was about 18 months old at the time,” she said. “It was from the chief of police in Miami. He was cracking down, and he meant what he said. And he said, ‘I don’t even care if it makes it look like brutality, I’m going to crack down. When the looting starts, the shooting starts.’ That frightened a lot of people when you tweeted that.”
“Well, it also comes from a very tough mayor,” Trump said, referring to former Philadelphia Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, a statue of whom was removed from its post in the city last week.
“It means two things. Very different things,” Trump continued. “One is if there’s looting there’s probably going to be shooting, and that’s not as a threat, that’s really just a fact because that’s what happens. And the other is if there’s looting there’s going to be shooting. There’s — they’re very different meanings. No, there’s very different meanings.”
After the roundtable, the President was slated to attend a joint fundraising committee dinner at a private residence, which will bring in $10 million for Trump Victory, a Republican National Committee official confirmed to CNN. Trump Victory is a joint fundraising committee benefiting the Trump campaign, the RNC, and 22 state parties.
The price tag is $580,600 per couple to attend the Thursday night event at a private home in Dallas. About 25 people are expected. Trump is expected to attend a similar fundraising event in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Saturday.
These are Trump’s first in-person fundraising events since March, when the coronavirus pandemic halted traditional fundraising and campaigning.
The President’s visit to the Lone Star State comes as Texas continues to deal with the pandemic.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s tally of cases in the US, there have been more than 80,000 identified coronavirus cases in Texas and more than 1,900 have died from the virus. And on Wednesday night, the US surpassed 2 million identified coronavirus cases.
While Trump was en route to Dallas, the White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, met for the second time this week in Washington, as a trusted model is projecting a steep increase in cases in the fall.
But as Pence and Trump continue to lead the country’s coronavirus response, they’ve also been eager to push federal and state guidance aside this week for the sake of the President’s reelection campaign.
Pence appeared to openly flout Virginia guidelines on Wednesday when he tweeted and subsequently deleted a photo with a large group of tightly-clustered Trump campaign staff at their Viriginia headquarters with no masks. The cap on gatherings is 10 people in Virginia.
Trump’s Dallas visit comes as Trump kicks off his return to campaign-related events, including in-person rallies, even as federal guidelines continue to discourage large gatherings. On Wednesday, the President announced he would host his first rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 19.
Ahead of the Texas visit, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden criticized Trump for his handling of the coronavirus and for “running away” from a meaningful conversation on systemic racism.
“More than 1,800 Texans have died as a result of COVID-19, more than 2.9 million have filed for unemployment, and people around the world are marching against systemic racism in our country,” Biden said in a statement. “For weeks we’ve seen President Trump run away from a meaningful conversation on systemic racism and police brutality. Instead, he’s 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.”
This story has been updated with comments from Trump’s interview with Fox News.