White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has claimed Donald Trump did not see the video of Trump supporters in Portland, Oregon, firing paintballs and pepper spray at counter-protesters over the weekend — even though the president retweeted a video of such scenes on Sunday.
“I don’t think the president has seen that video. Nor have I,” Ms McEnany told reporters at a press conference on Monday, a comment that strains credulity considering Mr Trump’s retweet of and comment on a video from New York Times correspondent Mike Baker showing exactly that.
“But if you’re going to ask about paintballs, it’s incredible that for 90 days I’ve stood at this podium talking about officers who have [had] lasers flashed in their eyes in an attempt to blind them, commercial grade fireworks being thrown at them,” Ms McEnany said, referring to the pockets of violence against police that has marked some protests against police brutality in the wake of several shootings of black Americans this summer.
Mr Trump fired off dozens of tweets on Sunday, including several ripping into locally elected Democratic leaders of cities and states that have experienced riots this summer and hailing the people parading vehicles through Portland this weekend flying Trump 2020 flags as “GREAT PATRIOTS!”
Retweeting Mr Baker’s tweet on Sunday with the video of pro-Trump demonstrators firing paintballs at counter-protesters, the president wrote of Mayor Ted Wheeler: “The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected after 95 days of watching and [sic] incompetent Mayor admit that he has no idea what he is doing. The people of Portland won’t put up with no safety any longer.The Mayor is a FOOL. Bring in the National Guard!”
In Mr Baker’s initial tweet, he wrote that there were “clashes” along the parade route. “Trump people unload paintballs and pepper spray. They shot me too,” he wrote.
Ms McEnany highlighted at her press conference that a man shot and killed in Portland amid the demonstrations over the weekend, Aaron Danielson, was a supporter of Mr Trump, and that he was allegedly killed by a 48-year-old military veteran who has claimed to be “100% ANTIFA all the way!”
Despite the violence in Portland on Saturday, the Trump administration will not invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to quell unrest in Portland and Kenosha, Wisconsin, where some protesters have set fire to buildings and right-wing and left-wing demonstrators have clashed after the police shooting of a 29-year-old black man, Jacob Blake, last week.
“The President does not want to invoke the Insurrection Act, which has been used very sparingly. But what he does want is to help the cities where he can,” Ms McEnany said.
“When you see Kenosha, when federal forces came in, there was peace. In Minneapolis [as well]. And in both of those cases, it was at the invitation of the governor. So we want to work collaboratively with Democrat mayors and governors. They after all do hold the police power as embedded in the Constitution to control their streets, but we as the federal government are willing to supplement.”
Mr Trump’s opponent this November, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, challenged him to quit “fanning the flames of hate” by neglecting the message of peaceful protesters and leveraging the ideological divide of the country for political advantage.
“The deadly violence we saw overnight in Portland is unacceptable. Shooting in the streets of a great American city is unacceptable. I condemn this violence unequivocally. I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same,” Mr Biden said in a lengthy statement on Sunday.
“It does not matter if you find the political views of your opponents abhorrent, any loss of life is a tragedy. Today there is another family grieving in America, and Jill and I offer our deepest condolences,” Mr Biden said.
Mr Biden issued his statement the day after Mr Danielson was shot in Portland.
The statement came also on the heels of a 17-year-old boy from Illinois, Kyle Rittenhouse, being charged with first-degree intentional homicide and several other violent felonies after he allegedly shot and killed two people in Kenosha last week amid a protest-turned-riot against the police shooting of Mr Blake.
Ms McEnany expressed a similar sentiment as Mr Biden about non-violence and peaceful protests on Monday on behalf of the president.
“The President believes that people of all ideologies should be able to peacefully protest and not have their lives put at risk,” Ms McEnany said.
Mr Trump is scheduled to visit Kenosha later this week, where he plans to meet with “local law enforcement and some business owners to help survey the damage” from the rioting last week, Ms McEnany said.
The president does not plan to meet with Mr Blake’s family, though the administration has reached out.