What to Know in Washington: Trump Threatens Protests with Troops

As protests in Minneapolis over the death of a handcuffed African American turned increasingly violent, President Donald Trump threatened to send in armed forces and warned that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

In a pair of early morning tweets today, the president assailed the city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, as weak and said he had told Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) that “the military is with him all the way.”

Last night, a mob broke into the Third Precinct station house in Minneapolis and set fire to it, according to the Associated Press. The officers had fled the building.

Protests over the death of George Floyd on Monday spread across the nation after a video of his encounter with police officers from the precinct spread across social media and television.

In the video, Floyd is on the pavement next to a police car with a white officer kneeling on his neck. He says that he cannot breath. The four officers involved were fired on Tuesday, though no charges have been filed.

Expressions of outrage from across the political spectrum followed the release of the video. There were protests in several other cities, including New York and Albuquerque. In Columbus, Ohio, protesters tried unsuccessfully to storm the statehouse, according to local news reports.

Trump in one of his Twitter posts said “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd and I won’t let that happen.”

The president also mentioned deploying the National Guard. Those forces are under the control of governors, but can be ordered into federal service by a president during an emergency. Walz has already activated the Minnesota Guard, the AP reported. Read more from John Harney and Max Berley.

Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
The emblem from the front facing of the Third Police Precinct is tossed into a fire on Thursday in Minneapolis.

Probe Into Floyd, Arbery, Taylor Deaths Sought: House Judiciary Democrats said the panel will seek “additional oversight and legislative action” next month “to address the slew of racially motivated violence and unjust policing practices” that have resulted in deaths of unarmed African Americans. The members sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting probes of prosecutors involved in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot in his neighborhood in Georgia, and probes into the police departments in Louisville, Ky. over the death of Breonna Taylor and in Minneapolis over the death of Floyd, Ben Livesey reports.

Twitter Puts Warning on Trump Tweet: Twitter put up a rule-violation notice on Trump’s Minneapolis tweet, Nate Lanxon and Vlad Savov report. Saying that the president’s comments about protests in Minneapolis were against its rules, the social media company has obscured the offending message on Trump’s profile with the following warning: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”

“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts,” Twitter said in a statement on its @TwitterComms account. It said the company kept Trump’s tweet live “because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance.”

Twitter Spat With Trump Escalates

Twitter flagging Trump’s post for violating its rules against glorifying violence escalates the clash with the president after he signed an executive order that seeks to limit liability protections for social-media companies.

Trump’s executive order came after Twitter began selective fact checks of his posts on the platform. Under current law, companies like Twitter and Facebook are protected for users’ posts. Trump told reporters that his order “calls for new regulations under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it that social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield.”

“I’m signing an executive order to protect and uphold the free speech rights of the American people,” Trump said. “Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they’re a neutral platform, which they’re not.” Trump said he expected the order or the regulations it produces to be challenged in court. If it were legal for him to shut down Twitter, Trump said, “I would do it.” Read more from Justin Sink, Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Jordan Fabian.

  • Twitter and Facebook have both sparked the ire of Trump, but the social networks have taken nearly opposite approaches to politics and the president. While Twitter this week slapped unprecedented fact-checks on presidential tweets, Facebook has adopted a more hands-off strategy, saying it wants to be the online equivalent of the public square, shying away from judging which politicians’ statements are true and which are false. In spite of Facebook’s strategy of accommodation, Trump named both companies in the executive order yesterday. Read more from Naomi Nix.
  • The Federal Communications Commission split along party lines on Trump’s executive order, previewing a potential battle to come as the agency weighs action. Commissioners started reacting to the order before Trump signed it yesterday. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (D) said Trump wants to turn the FCC into “speech police,” while Commissioner Mike O’Rielly (R) said that he is worried “voices are stifled by liberal tech leaders.” The agency lacks statutory authority to take the sort of action Trump favors, attorneys say, yet commissioners face pressure to do something. Jon Reid has more.
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump’s planned order would not address the “complete failure” of big tech companies to fight the spread of disinformation. Trump “is encouraging Facebook and other social media giants to continue to exploit and profit off falsehoods with total impunity,” she said in a statement, Kim Chipman reports.

Also on Lawmakers’ Radars

Thune Sees Water, Transport, Virus Bills Coming This Year: Republican Whip Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on a Bloomberg Government webinar yesterday laid out a plan for the rest of the year, including focusing on water infrastructure legislation and a surface transportation program that must be reauthorized by Sept. 30. Next week, the Senate will take up a bill to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and address a massive backlog of national parks maintenance projects. Two water infrastructure bills were approved May 11 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and are also priorities, Thune said. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Marathon Petroleum Probed on Lobbying Push: Democratic lawmakers are asking Marathon Petroleum to turn over a raft of documents tied to the refiner’s lobbying on a Trump administration effort to ease fuel-economy standards. “It appears the oil industry—and Marathon in particular—are driving forces behind the Trump administration’s decision to weaken tailpipe emissions standards,” House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and others wrote in a letter. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Graham Asks Older Appellate Judges to Make Room for Younger Ones: Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on older appeals court judges to step aside and make room for younger nominees, applying new pressure to get more conservatives into the confirmation pipeline in the final months of Trump’s first term in office. “If you’re a circuit judge in your mid-60s, late-60s, you can take senior status, now would be a good time to do that if you want to make sure the judiciary is right-of-center, this is a good time to do it,” Graham said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. Read more from Madison Alder.

House Dems Seek Immigration Probe: House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Chair Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and other House Democrats requested HHS’ Office of Inspector General investigate allegations that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is preventing the the reunification of migrant children with families and deporting unaccompanied minors without due process. Read the letter here.

Democrats Decry U.S. ‘Gifting’ of Ventilators to Russia: Maloney, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (N.Y.), and other top Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking information on a decision by the president to use “U.S. taxpayer funds to purchase ventilators from Russian President Vladimir Putin” that are “not only unsafe for use in the United States, but were manufactured by a subsidiary of a Russian company currently under U.S. sanctions.” Read the letter here.

The Path to Reopening

Washington Reopens in a Win for Trump: As Trump urged the states to begin reopening economies shuttered by the pandemic, the nation’s capital stubbornly resisted. Not any more. Starting today, Washington finally lifts its stay-at-home order.

The move represents a symbolic victory for Trump who is eager to demonstrate the country is getting back to normal. But it also poses risks as a resurgence of the virus in Washington, currently one of the worst hot spots in the nation, would be an equally potent symbol of the downside of Trump’s go-fast approach.

“It doesn’t look like they’ve had a big enough decline to justify reopening,” said Robert Bednarczyk, an assistant professor at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. “I’m a little confused about the data D.C. is using.”

Washington, a city of 700,000 residents, has reported nearly 8,500 cases and more than 450 deaths from Covid-19, the diseased caused by the virus, and ranks third behind New Jersey and New York in terms of positive tests rates, according to Bednarczyk. Even Deborah Birx, the epidemiologist who coordinates the White House’s coronavirus task force, said last week that the Washington metropolitan area has become an epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

But Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said she was relaxing the stay-at-home order because the city had met its goal of a 14-day decline in community spread of the illness. “Of course, this 14-day decline in community spread is one of the metrics we established for moving into Phase One, and now we have reached it along with other metrics for testing capacity, health care system capacity, and public system capacity related to testing and tracing,” she said. Read more from Ari Natter.

Americans Stop Thinking the Economy Is Getting Worse: Americans’ opinions about the state of the economy, which collapsed with the onset of the pandemic in March, stopped falling about a month ago and have now stabilized—a pattern that is evident across all political persuasions. This development was no sure thing. If we back up to late March, the Nationscape survey—which asks more than 6,000 people each week whether the economy is better, worse, or about the same as a year ago—found a steep drop among Democrats, independents, and Republicans who said it was getting better. That drop coincided with the collapse of the stock market and the onset of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in most states across the country. While Republicans maintained a sunnier outlook than other groups, their darkening opinion about the economy shifted in the same direction. Read more from Joshua Green.

Airline Loan Fund Untapped: U.S. airlines have yet to tap $29 billion in federal pandemic relief loans as they wait to see whether the re-opening of the economy revives demand and diminishes the need for money that comes with government strings attached. Although the four largest U.S. passenger airlines have applied for the Treasury Department program, only American Airlines has said it intends to tap the pool of funds. Southwest, United and Delta say they plan to wait until fall before deciding whether to take the money — after a summer travel season that could see more people return to the skies. Read more from Saleha Mohsin and Ryan Beene.

China Tensions

Trump Says He’ll Unveil China Moves Today: Trump said yesterday that he’ll announce new U.S. policies on China today, after the country passed a national security law curbing freedoms in Hong Kong. His top economic adviser said on CNBC yesterday that Beijing would be held accountable by the U.S.

“We’ll be announcing what we’re doing tomorrow with respect to China. And we are not happy with China. We are not happy with what’s happened,” Trump told reporters yesterday in answer to a question on whether the U.S. would remain in a “phase one” trade deal he signed with Chinese officials in January. “All over the world, people are suffering,” he said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic which he has sought to blame on Beijing. “We’re not happy.”

He said he’ll hold a news conference to discuss China today, but didn’t specify a time. The White House didn’t immediately give more information about the announcement, which would follow a move by China’s legislature yesterday to approve legislation that Hong Kong democracy advocates say will curtail freedom of speech and undermine the city’s independent judiciary. Josh Wingrove and Jordan Fabian have more.

  • Trump appears poised to sign a measure that would punish Chinese officials for imprisoning more than one million Muslims in internment camps, as he looks to rebuke Beijing over its crackdown in Hong Kong and its response to the coronavirus. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters he expects the president will sign the bill, which won broad bipartisan support in Congress. The measure would require Trump to sanction any officials found responsible for the Muslims’ oppression, and revoke their visas. “We fully anticipate within a matter of days that the president will sign this,” McCaul said on a conference call. Read more from Jordan Fabian and Daniel Flatley.
  • The debate over whether Washington and Beijing are in a Cold War will only intensify in the coming months as both Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, focus primarily on appealing to their own virus-weary citizens in a bid to retain power: Trump in November’s elections, and Xi in a Communist Party conclave in 2022 that effectively serves as a leadership contest. “There is no off ramp for the moment for the U.S. and China, for the pretty obvious reason that neither is looking for one,” Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, said. Read more.

Van Hollen, Toomey to Push China Sanctions: Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said they will “push forward” with a bipartisan measure that would punish any Chinese entity involved in enforcing new security laws in Hong Kong. “The authoritarian steps taken by the Chinese Communist Party serve one purpose: to extinguish the autonomy and freedoms of Hongkongers,” the senators wrote in a statement, Ben Livesey reports.

Elections & Politics

Homebound Viewers Blitzed With Election 2020: For anyone watching television in the state of Kentucky, this isn’t news: The coronavirus pandemic has dominated political advertising. Ads for and against the re-election of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) aired for a remarkable 30 straight days at one point. There have been so many virus-related TV spots in the race that it rivals even the presidential contest in volume.

McConnell’s likely Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath, has aired her ad “Powerful” more than 2,500 times—the third-highest total of any single political ad this cycle. In it, she accuses McConnell of “taking a victory lap” on defeating the virus while millions are unemployed and thousands dead. It ends with the kicker, “What good is a powerful senator if he’s hurting us?”

Since March 16, when the first coronavirus-related ad aired, about half of all ads aired for House, Senate and presidential contests have mentioned the virus. Such ads made up the majority of TV spots on 36 days since, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Government, using data from the firm Advertising Analytics. Read more from Aaron Kessler and Kenneth P. Doyle.

Biden Eyes Gradual Return to the Campaign Trail: Joe Biden’s emergence from his house on Memorial Day was a test run for for his return to the traditional campaigning that he thrives on — minus the handshakes, hugs and backslapping — as virus lockdowns ease around the country. Biden has stayed at home for more than two months, holding campaign events and media appearances from a basement studio, in keeping with health experts’ guidance.

The timing of his basement exit would be propitious for Biden as Trump’s re-election effort continues to reel from the shaky coronavirus response and a souring economy with more than 40 million people unemployed. As Trump pushes Americans — including Biden — to come out of their homes, Biden’s natural affinity for campaigning could draw a sharp distinction. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Cortez Masto Withdraws From Veep Consideration: Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) said yesterday that she no longer wished to be under consideration as Biden’s running mate. Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate, was viewed as a top contender for the Democratic ticket, but she said in a statement she wanted to focus on helping Nevada recover from Covid-19. Read more from Tyler Pager.

RNC Presses Governor on Convention Guidelines: The Republican National Committee is asking North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to provide “clear guidelines” for holding the GOP convention in Charlotte this August. Trump has pressed Cooper to allow a convention with “full attendance” despite the threat of the coronavirus, and has threatened to move the event to another state. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.

Montana Congressman Outspending Rivals in Gubernatorial Primary: An open seat, a pandemic, and big advertising budgets have ramped up the drama in Montana’s first all-mail-in gubernatorial primary. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), one of the wealthiest members of Congress, has been the dominant television presence, buying $1.2 million worth of spots, according to the tracking service Advertising Analytics LLC. Read more from Tripp Baltz and Alex Ebert.

What Else To Know:

Ease Use-It-or-Lose-It Special Education Money Rule, Groups Say: Several public education groups are asking lawmakers to grant school districts flexibility in how they spend federal dollars on special education. The Covid-19 pandemic compelled many local districts to shutter schools and redirect spending to online learning, training for personnel, and technology for students, the groups wrote in a letter. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

New Jersey May Have to Fire 200,000 Public Workers, Murphy Says: New Jersey may have to cut half the state’s 400,000 public employees if the federal government doesn’t help make up a $10.1 billion revenue shortage through June 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said. Without federal help, he said, state and local governments will have to dismiss firefighters, police, emergency-medical personnel and others. Read more from Elise Young and David Westin.

Over 10,000 Immigration Agency Furloughs Possible, Union Says: A union representing government workers is ringing the alarm that employees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could soon be furloughed due to funding shortfalls the agency blames on the coronavirus pandemic. Read more from Genevieve Douglas.

Rule Could Expand Oil, Gas Drilling in National Forests: A proposed U.S. Forest Service rule stands to weaken a check on oil and gas development in national forests and possibly give the Interior Department more sway over land leasing decisions, legal analysts and conservationists say, Bobby Magill reports.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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