Politics After Week of Tumult, Trump Claims Victory

01:36  06 june  2020
01:36  06 june  2020 Source:   online.wsj.com

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WASHINGTON — President Trump claimed victory on multiple fronts on Friday, crediting his administration for the drop in unemployment and its response to the coronavirus pandemic after a week marked by protests across the nation and rebukes from Democrats, congressional Republicans and former members of his administration.

Comparing the momentum in the U.S. economy to a rocketship, Mr. Trump said the employment report validated his administration’s push for states to ease their coronavirus pandemic restrictions. The jobless rate fell to 13.3% in May, down from the post-Great Depression high of 14.7% a month earlier, signaling the labor market might be turning a corner from lockdowns that have devastated large parts of the economy.

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Surrounded by his economic team and Vice President Mike Pence on a warm, sunny day in Washington, Mr. Trump spoke for an hour in the Rose Garden, praising his administration’s response to multiple crises that have consumed the country’s attention in recent weeks. “We’ve made every decision correctly,” he said.

Mr. Trump said his administration had expertly handled the spread of coronavirus. Public opinion polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans disagree. More than 108,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and many public-health experts have faulted the administration for not doing more early on to set up a robust testing system and distribute crucial equipment to states.

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The president said, as he often has before, that his decisions to restrict travel from China and to urge social distancing measures prevented millions more Americans from dying.

Mr. Trump also praised his administration’s response to 10 days of protests and unrest in Washington and other cities over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis when a white officer held him down with a knee on his neck. The president has told governors to “dominate” protesters and has threatened to bring in active-duty military to respond to unrest in some cities—proposals strongly opposed by many states as well as current and former military leaders.

Mr. Trump said Friday’s jobs report was “a tremendous tribute to equality,” though the report showed little change in black unemployment, which ticked up from to 16.8% from 16.7%, moving in the opposite direction of the overall report.

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“Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that is happening for our country,“ Mr. Trump said. ”This is a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody.”

That line quickly drew criticism from former Vice President Joe Biden, Mr. Trump’s likely Democratic opponent in November, who noted that Mr. Floyd’s actual last words were “I can’t breathe.”

“For the president to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd is frankly despicable,” Mr. Biden said in a speech in Dover, Del.

Mr. Trump asked several members of his team to speak during the White House event, but took no questions from reporters. He shushed one reporter who asked why he was declaring victory when black and Asian unemployment had increased. “You are something,” he told the reporter, shaking his head.

Outside the White House, protests against police brutality toward African-Americans continued for the eighth straight day in Washington, as the city’s Democratic mayor, Muriel Bowser, called on Mr. Trump to withdraw all federal law enforcement officials. Ms. Bowser on Friday directed the city to paint “Black Lives Matter” in large yellow block letters, which covered three city blocks directly north of the White House.

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The tumultuous week of protests outside the White House and the administration’s response have drawn rebukes from former administration officials and contributed to splinters within his own party.

Down Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr. Trump was warring with two Republican members of the U.S. Senate, Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have been critical of the president’s handling of the protests, including the decision to forcefully remove protesters on Monday and his threat to bring in the military. His party has a three-seat majority in the chamber heading into the November elections.

While Mr. Trump was speaking, his former chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, spoke out in support of former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who earlier this week denounced the president for threatening to use military power to quell civil disturbances. Mr. Mattis described Mr. Trump as “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try.”

“The idea that you would unleash American active duty folks unless it’s an extremist situation … these are civilian responsibilities,” Mr. Kelly said in an online interview with Anthony Scaramucci, Mr. Trump’s former communications director. “We should be very, very careful before we contemplate sending in active duty.”

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Asked if he would have used force to remove protesters from the park outside the White House before the president posed for photos in front of a church on Monday, Mr. Kelly said, “I would have recommended against it.”

Buoyed by the jobs numbers, Mr. Trump said he was pondering taking a road trip in an RV with his wife, Melania Trump, and declared himself in perfect health. He predicted hundreds of miles of new wall along the nation’s southern border as he ticked through a list of what he considers his most important accomplishments.

Mr. Trump said the recovery was being driven by states that were “most energetic” about reopening amid the pandemic, but he didn’t provide data to support that claim. Friday’s report didn’t break down unemployment by region.

Mr. Trump questioned why some governors weren’t reopening faster from the coronavirus pandemic, which is continuing to claim about 1,000 American lives a day. He issued a prediction about the direction of the economy if he loses re-election in November. “I’m telling you, next year, unless something happens and the wrong people get in here, this can turn around,” Mr. Trump said.

The president said he was surprised by the jobs report and believes the economic numbers would continue to exceed expectations in the coming months. He also promised a payroll tax cut and a new round of stimulus to further boost the economy, but didn’t say how he planned to get them passed by a divided Congress. Lawmakers of both parties have signaled skepticism of a payroll tax cut, and Senate Republicans have taken a wait-and-see stance to more stimulus.

“It was shocking to even great pros I watched,” Mr. Trump said, ticking through a list of cable news shows he said he watched as the unemployment numbers were announced. “We had the greatest economy in the history of the world and that strength let us get through this horrible pandemic, largely through,” he said, adding that the public should wear masks—“if you want.”

The White House didn’t put distance between the chairs arranged in the Rose Garden for journalists, as it had done at previous events, breaking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. White House staffers had initially spaced the chairs apart, but moved them back together, with the press office telling the White House Correspondents’ Association that it “looks better” that way.

Eight of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers stood behind him through much of the event, sweat dripping down their faces as the sun beat down on them. When the president wrapped up his remarks, he called on Mr. Pence to speak.

“Today is a great day for America,” the vice president said, adding, “Congratulations America, the comeback begins.”

Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com

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