A global pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and now recent nationwide unrest after a brutal police killing of a black man have challenged both President Trump and his presumed Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, while also highlighting their different leadership styles.
On Monday, Trump had no public events scheduled, and, in a call with state governors, lobbed insults and railed against their leadership, according to audio and reports that quickly leaked to the media. “Most of you are weak,” Trump told governors on the conference call. “You have to arrest people.”
Trump blasted the governors for what he perceived to be their lack of control as peaceful protests gave way to looting and fires in several major cities over the past several days. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate,” Trump continued.
Trump got into a particularly tense exchange with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat. Pritzker said that “rhetoric out of the White House” is agitating, and asked Trump to consider changing his tone. Trump rebuked the governor, telling Pritzker he didn’t like his rhetoric either and said he could have done a much better job on COVID-19 response, according to reporting from the New York Times.
Earlier that morning, Biden participated in his first public campaign appearance in the morning at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., for a listening session with black community leaders, many of whom are part of the church community, in an attempt to find some of those answers.
There, leaders pushed him to make several overtures in the upcoming months, including choosing a black woman as vice president and sitting down with young community members who feel pained by their circumstances. Biden said he’d be making more remarks in the coming weeks regarding rebuilding the country, though he did not offer many more specifics.
After about 40 minutes of comments, Biden made a plea to the church leaders, and would make a similar request in a call with mayors from several of the affected cities, hours later, to continue to advise him.
“I know I’m going to make mistakes,” said Biden, who recently caught heat for remarks he made to radio host Charlamagne Tha God about black Americans. “It’s going to come from the heart, but I need help. I need help and advice as we go along as to what you think I should and shouldn’t be doing.”
Later that afternoon, as audio from Trump’s call was leaked to the press, Biden hosted his second public event of the day: a virtual roundtable with the mayors of Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. Paul, Minn. There he condemned the recent violent outbreaks, while acknowledging the root of the anger.
“People are angry, I’m sure you guys are too — I’m angry. The fact is we need that anger, we need that to compel us to move forward. It helps us push through this pain and reach the other side to hopefully greater progress, equality and inclusion,” said Biden, who also condemned what he called “the needless destruction in cities across the country.”
“Violence endangers lives, it guts local businesses, it’s no way forward,” he said. “And as mayors, you all are responsible for shaping how your cities respond.”
Without addressing Trump directly, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti took a shot at the White House, saying there is a lack of national leadership that must now be shouldered by mayors across the board.
“Mayors around the country are constantly in contact with one another, late, late at night and early in the morning, to make sure that when we have a lack of national leadership — at least we can try to, through the cities of this country, bring together and push forward a national agenda that can bring peace and justice,” he said.
Garcetti later added that he would like the country to hear from Trump on the recent unrest, echoing concerns of other mayors on the call.
“It’s catastrophic for us in terms of the ability to just maintain basic public services, and we still to this point have seen no assistance from the federal government in terms of general fund assistance, particularly right now when the world knows we’ve had a significant number of businesses and commercial property destroyed,” added St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.
Biden said the family of George Floyd was not looking for “revenge, they were looking for justice.”
But what that justice looks like — and what will ultimately deescalate national protests — remains unclear.
Cover thumbnail photos: Alex Brandon/AP, Andrew Harnik/AP
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