President Donald Trump visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, going against the wishes of officials requesting he stay away from the city, which is still coping from the recent shooting of an unarmed Black man by law enforcement and subsequent demonstrations that have turned deadly.
The President did not meet with the family of Jacob Blake, the man who was shot in the back seven times by a police officer. Trump claimed that he’s not meeting with Blake’s family during his Wisconsin visit because they wanted to involve lawyers. The pastors of Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, took part in one event.
During the trip, Trump was asked by a reporter whether he thinks systemic racism is a problem in the United States, given that there are also peaceful protests around the country calling for an end to it. The President responded: “Well, you know you just keep getting back to the opposite subject. We should talk about the kind of violence we’ve seen in Portland and here and other places.”
“The fact is that we’ve seen tremendous violence and we will put it out very, very quickly if given the chance,” he continued.
Trump also largely sided with the message he’s held onto since demonstrations spread across the country this summer, arguing that police violence is not a systemic issue and saying that the people of Kenosha want “law and order” and “want the police to be police.”
Trump’s visit to the swing state marked another attempt to continue his campaign of linking Democrat-run cities and states to violence ahead of the November election in an attempt to paint himself as voters’ candidate for law and order.
His visit included surveying areas of the city damaged by demonstrations, touring an emergency operations center and a high school, and then holding a public safety roundtable.
During the roundtable, Trump spoke at length about law enforcement and damage to small businesses, announcing that his administration would be providing millions of dollars in funding toward law enforcement, public safety resources and small business relief in Kenosha and the state of Wisconsin.
But it wasn’t until more than 30 minutes into the event that someone in the room mentioned Blake by name, when Jackson’s pastor said he continued to “pray for Jacob’s healing.”
Toward the end of the roundtable, a reporter asked the President about Blake and he directly addressed the situation that drew him to the city. Trump said he feels “terribly for anybody who goes through” what the Blake family has experienced.
“I feel terribly for anybody that goes through that. As you know, it’s under investigation,” he said.
“I hope they come up with the right answer,” Trump continued. “It’s a complicated subject, to be honest with you. But I feel terribly for anybody who has to go through – and I didn’t get to speak to the mother, I hear she’s a fine woman. I hear from the pastor, a really fine woman. But you can see when I spoke with the pastors (of Blake’s mother) – I see exactly what it is and they understand where I am. And if we can help we’re going to help but it is a question. It’s under investigation. A lot of things happened with that and other things, frankly, that we’re looking at very, very closely.”
Attorney General William Barr and acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf were along for the trip. On Monday, the President met with the Wolf and Barr to discuss the ongoing civil unrest across the country, two administration sources told CNN.
Asked not to visit
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers asked Trump to not visit Kenosha as the city works to heal and to prevent diverting local resources for a presidential visit.
And Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, a Democrat, told CNN’s Pamela Brown on “Erin Burnett OutFront” Monday that he is disappointed that the President is coming.
“Our community has gone through a great deal and there is no time right now for politics to be played. We would prefer the President had waited at least another week or so before coming to visit,” Antaramian said. “The President is always welcome. But at this time, it’s just the wrong time.”
Jim Kreuser, the Kenosha County executive, has echoed those sentiments, and the Kenosha County sheriff, David Beth, said a visit by any major figure will create extra work for the department.
Following Trump’s visit, Wisconsin Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Prime Time” that the trip “did not have anything to do with the Blake family.”
“His trip did not have anything to do with the two people who were murdered in cold blood on the streets. It was just stoke more division and more fear amongst his base because this is not a state that he is performing particularly well in at the moment, although he won four years ago,” he said.
“This trip was solely based out of desperation,” Barnes continued. “And it is only going to make things worse as far as tensions go.”
Biden has said he’s considering a visit to Wisconsin.
Biden’s advisers are discussing a possible visit as soon as this week, a source with knowledge of the discussions said, adding that the situation remains fluid.
Antaramian has said he also would like Biden to wait a week before visiting.
Refusing to condemn right-wing agitators
Trump in recent weeks has repeatedly pointed to at times violent demonstrations following incidents of police violence against Black people to claim that such unrest would be inflamed if Biden is elected.
The only condemnation Trump made during his trip was to “condemn the dangerous anti-police rhetoric,” despite the fact that an armed supporter of the President, reportedly acting as a vigilante, allegedly killed two people.
He’s also largely ignored the anguish expressed nationwide by many Americans. On Monday, Trump said the demonstrations against police brutality seen across the country were not “peaceful protests,” but “anarchy.”
But Trump has not acknowledged whether his visit could embolden violence by right-wing vigilantes and agitators.
On Monday, he refused to denounce the violent actions by right-wing agitators at demonstrations in Portland and Wisconsin, including Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old vigilante who allegedly killed two protesters and injured another in Kenosha.
Trump said Rittenhouse “probably would have been killed” had he not fatally shot two protesters.
Asked if he agreed with armed vigilantes like Rittenhouse taking to the streets, Trump said he’d “like to see law enforcement take care of everything,” but didn’t condemn vigilantism.
He also argued that his supporters spraying a form of pepper spray and firing paintballs at protesters over the weekend were using them as “a defensive mechanism” when they rolled through the streets of Portland.
“They had large numbers of people that were supporters, but that was a peaceful protest,” Trump said in a response to a question from CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, “and paint is not – and paint as a defensive mechanism. Paint is not bullets.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Allie Malloy, Konstantin Toropin, Renee Baharaeen, Paul LeBlanc and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.