Even as President Donald Trump loudly pledges to restore “law and order” to a Wisconsin city gripped by protests, he has remained silent on what prompted the unrest: another police shooting of a Black man.
Asked about the situation during a storm briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters on Thursday, Trump focused on quelling the protests without addressing the shooting that precipitated them.
He wrote off a boycott by NBA players, claiming the league had become too political after several teams declined to play Wednesday night in protest of police violence against Black Americans.
And he ended the questioning without answering whether he’d viewed the video of the incident, in which a White police officer is seen firing seven times into 29-year-old Jacob Blake’s back.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who said later Thursday that the White House had reached out to Blake’s family, also confirmed Trump had watched the video.
Meadows reached out to representatives of Blake’s family, specifically his mother, the chief of staff said, to express “not only my desire, but the President’s desire to share support for the family.”
But the absence of any presidential statement about the shooting that left Blake partially paralyzed underscores the fraught approach to safety and policing Trump is adopting as he runs for reelection: while he has railed against Democratic authorities for allowing violence in their cities, he has largely brushed off the events and circumstances that led to the unrest.
White House officials said Trump is wary of commenting on incidents before the details are fully known, though Blake was shot on Sunday and police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, have offered some details leading up to the incident.
On Monday morning he was briefed on the incident by Attorney General William Barr, though details about what happened were still vague at the time, according to a senior administration official.
He was briefed additional times later on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday the Justice Department announced a federal civil rights investigation into Blake’s shooting.
But Trump still hasn’t addressed the incident itself, choosing to focus instead on the ensuing protests and the state’s Democratic governor.
“We will put out the fire. We will put out the flame,” Trump said during his visit to FEMA, where he received a briefing on Hurricane Laura. “We will stop the violence very quickly.”
Earlier this week, Trump tweeted he would “NOT stand for looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets.”
“TODAY, I will be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!” he wrote.
Later, the White House said in a statement the federal government had deployed nearly 1,000 National Guardsmen and 200 federal law enforcement personnel, including FBI and US Marshalls, to Wisconsin.
Efforts have been made inside the White House to connect Trump with Blake’s family, a White House official said, though by Wednesday evening it did not appear they had spoken. Trump’s election-year rival Joe Biden said in a video on Wednesday he had spoken with members of Blake’s family, including his mother.
“I told them ‘justice must and will be done,’ ” Biden said in the video.
Speaking on CNN, Blake’s mother Julia Jackson said she’d missed a phone call from Trump – and said she had the “utmost respect for you as the leader of our country.”
“Had I not missed your call maybe the comments you had made would have been different. I’m not mad at you at all,” she said, though it wasn’t clear which comments she was referencing.
At this week’s Republican National Convention, speakers have sought to underscore Trump’s efforts to quell protests in American cities this summer. Vice President Mike Pence, delivering Wednesday’s keynote address, cited Wisconsin when listing US cities where he said violence had been permitted to rage.
“Last week, Joe Biden didn’t say one word about the violence and chaos engulfing cities across this country,” Pence said, vowing Trump would restore calm: “We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color.”
Yet like Trump, Pence did not mention the event that led to the violence in Wisconsin.
Wednesday’s convention programming came against the backdrop of a burgeoning professional sports boycott, which included players from the NBA, WNBA, the pro tennis tour, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer all refusing to play in protest of Blake’s shooting.
Convention speakers this week have harshly criticized professional athletes for kneeling during the National Anthem, an earlier form of protest against police brutality and systemic racism. Pence himself walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game in 2017 when players knelt.
Trump shrugged off the boycott on Thursday, saying he didn’t “know much about” it.
“I know their ratings have been very bad because I think people are a little tired of the NBA,” he said. “They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing.”
Speaking in television interviews on Thursday morning, members of Trump’s staff minimized the recent player boycotts.
“In my mind, it’s absurd and silly,” said Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, on CNN. “If they wanna protest, I don’t think we care.”
Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser, offered an equally dismissive take.
“Look, I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially so they have that luxury which is great,” Kushner said on CNBC.
This story has been updated with comments from Mark Meadows.
Jim Acosta and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this story.