President Donald Trump will host his first rally in months next week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he has plans to visit four other states in the coming weeks as his campaign prepares to relaunch in-person rallies, he said Wednesday.
The decision to hold a rally in Tulsa, a city with a checkered racial history, on June 19, or Juneteenth – the day that marks the end of slavery in the United States – is especially striking as the nation undergoes a conversation about racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police officers.
Trump’s response in particular has been scrutinized as he has largely remained silent on the issue of systemic racism and resistant to some of the changes proposed in the wake of the protests. The decision to hold the rally in Tulsa on June 19 was swiftly criticized by several Democrats and progressives, including Sen. Kamala Harris, who is widely viewed as a top contender to be Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick.
Ahead of a meeting with African American leaders at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said he also plans to visit Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Texas. The President has not held a rally since early March, when all in-person campaign events were halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re going to start our rallies back up now. We’ve had a tremendous run at rallies,” Trump said.
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In 1921, Tulsa was the site of a massacre of hundreds of African Americans during racial unrest in the historic section of the city known as “Black Wall Street.”
Harris, a California Democrat, blasted Trump’s decision to hold the rally there on Juneteenth.
“This isn’t just a wink to white supremacists—he’s throwing them a welcome home party,” Harris tweeted Thursday.
Asked on Thursday what Juneteenth means to Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, “The African American community is very near and dear to his heart. At these rallies he often shares the great work he has done for minority communities,” citing criminal justice reform and (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) funding.
She continued, “He’s working on rectifying injustices … So it’s a meaningful day to him and it’s a day where he wants to share some of the progress that’s been made as we look forward and more that needs to be done.”
The rally announcement also comes as coronavirus cases are on the rise in some parts of the US. Cases are still increasing in 19 states, while 24 are trending downward and seven are holding steady. Nationally, more than 2 million people have been infected by the virus and more than 112,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Tulsa had postponed its Juneteenth celebration this year due to coronavirus concerns. Tensions have also risen in the city after Tulsa police released body camera footage from the arrest of a black teenager and the handcuffing of a second for jaywalking last week.
The President has been anxious to get back out on the trail since in-person campaigning stopped. His campaign had originally drawn up plans to restart rallies in July, but it pushed up the timeline as more states started reopening their economies and as big crowds have taken part in demonstrations across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death.
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The campaign believes those crowds at the protests have opened the door to events like these rallies, despite the warnings from public health officials that social distancing, facial coverings and limited public interaction are still necessary to prevent a second spike of the virus.
“Where we go, we will make sure it is safe to hold a rally and what safety precautions we put in place. We will talk about when we know exactly what kind of venue that it is that we are talking about,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told Fox during an interview on Wednesday. “But I would point out to the national media that I don’t remember them doing any social distancing shaming when they were doing all the coverage of the demonstrations that were going on.”
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s guidance to reopen the state still recommends its residents to minimize time spent in “crowded environments” but doesn’t place limits on group gatherings.
CNN reported Wednesday that the White House has begun initial stages of preparing an executive order on police reform, though it remains unclear which specific provisions it may include as Trump continues to weigh his options.
The relaunch of Trump campaign rallies also comes as Republican officials are looking to move parts of the party’s national convention in August. The Republican National Committee elected to move much of the major programming out of the host city of Charlotte, North Carolina, in part because the Democratic governor and other officials in the state would not promise the convention could take place without precautions like social distancing and facial coverings.
Trump is expected to announce as early as Thursday where he will accept the nomination, and GOP sources say Jacksonville, Florida, is the front-runner.
This story has been updated to include racial history about Tulsa and include Kamala Harris’ response.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.