Trump Says Jobs Report Made It a ‘Great Day’ for George Floyd, Stepping on Message

WASHINGTON — President Trump began his Friday by drawing criticism from Democrats for declaring that new unemployment numbers made it “a great day” for George Floyd, the black man whose death in the custody of white police officers has touched off protests and rioting across the country.

He ended it by tweeting a video of a supporter declaring that Mr. Floyd was “not a good person.”

After a week of unrest in the capital, Mr. Trump had gone to the Rose Garden to declare victory over a coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the economy, promoting the new numbers and planning to carry that message with him on a trip to Maine later in the day. His jarring reference to Mr. Floyd, made during a speech centered on the economy, overshadowed it.

“Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,” Mr. Trump said. “This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”

Twelve hours later, the president tweeted a video of Candace Owens, a young black supporter who has questioned Mr. Floyd’s fitness as a “martyr” for the protests. “George Floyd was not a good person,” Ms. Owens said in that video. “I don’t care who wants to spin that.”

Democrats, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, were among those who immediately criticized the president’s earlier remarks.

“George Floyd’s last words — ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ — have echoed all across this nation and, quite frankly, around the world,” Mr. Biden said. “For the president to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd I, frankly, think is despicable.”

Mr. Biden pointed out that the economic news that Mr. Trump was so intent on celebrating did not extend to black Americans, whose unemployment rate had actually risen to 16.8 percent from 16.7 percent.

“The fact that he did so on a day when black unemployment rose,” Mr. Biden added, “tells you everything you need to know about this man.”

After his remarks, the president did not take questions from reporters the White House had assembled for the event. But he did respond to Yamiche Alcindor of PBS, who asked him to describe his plan to address systemic racism.

“What you now see, it’s been happening, is the greatest thing that can happen for race relations,” Mr. Trump said, “for the African-American community, for the Asian-American, for the Hispanic-American community, for women, for everything.”

He rolled his eyes when she asked how the unemployment numbers for blacks and Asian-Americans could be declared a victory.

“You are something,” Mr. Trump told her, refusing to answer as he tried to sign a piece of legislation relaxing restrictions on small-business loan recipients. The president also ignored a question from another reporter who asked how a better economy would have protected Mr. Floyd.

Instead, Mr. Trump trained his focus on the need to reopen the country and on the jobs report as evidence of what moving past the coronavirus and reopening would do. It would be like a hurricane that “goes away, and within two hours, everyone is rebuilding and fixing and cleaning and cutting their grass.”

The president said Americans should “do social distancing, and you wear masks if you want,” but he made clear he was happy to leave the pandemic behind. Health experts, including those in the Trump administration, have warned that the United States is not in the clear. Officials are still confirming more than 20,000 new cases a day as testing expands and new hot spots appear.

“Even you,” Mr. Trump said to reporters assembled there, “I notice you’re starting to get much closer together, looks much better, not all the way there yet but you’ll be there soon.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association said later that White House officials violated federal social distancing guidelines by moving chairs in the Rose Garden closer together before the event.

Mr. Trump took that aggressive stance with him on the road, picking a fight with Gov. Janet Mills, the Democratic governor of Maine, when he arrived in Bangor, and accused her of being slow to reopen the state.

“She doesn’t know what she’s doing,” the president said. “She’s like a dictator.”

Later, in a visit to Puritan Medical Products, which manufactures swabs for coronavirus tests, Mr. Trump continued to attack Ms. Mills, who had suggested to him earlier in the week that his visit may cause security problems amid continuing protests.

Indeed, when he arrived at the Puritan facility in Guilford, a small town in the central part of the state, a crowd of protesters was waiting for him.

“You have a governor that won’t let you open up,” Mr. Trump said to the crowd gathered there. “I might as well say it while I’m up here: You better get the state open, governor.”

Adding to his administration’s efforts to eliminate environmental protections in the name of restarting the economy after months of shutdown, the president signed a proclamation to open the Atlantic Ocean’s first marine monument to commercial fishing. The plan would allow commercial fishing to resume in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, an expanse of sea canyons and underwater mountains off the New England coast.

President Barack Obama created the monument in the last year of his presidency to protect an area of the Atlantic where temperatures are projected to warm as much as three times as fast as the global average. The fishing industry strongly opposed the move.

At an event with fishermen, Mr. Trump also criticized the European Union and China for the tariffs they charge on American lobsters. One attendee told the president that Maine lobstermen are being forced to open factories in Canada to ship lobsters into the European Union and China, which charge higher tariffs on American lobsters than Canadian ones.

But that is because Canada and the European Union entered into a free-trade agreement in 2017, lowering tariffs between the countries. China slapped its tariff on American lobsters in retaliation for Mr. Trump’s hefty tariffs on the country during the trade war.

On Friday, the president said he would put a tariff on European cars unless the European Union removed its tariffs on American lobsters, saying, “the European Union has ripped this country off, it’s so unbelievable.”

“It’s so easy to solve,” he added. “If they don’t change, we’re going to put a tariff on their cars until they change.”

Mr. Trump’s visit to Maine, his first as president, had the feel of a campaign event.

Bangor and Guilford are in Maine’s Second Congressional District, which Mr. Trump carried in 2016, earning him one electoral vote. It is one of the largest rural districts in the country and has a reputation for having a fierce independent streak.

“You treated me very nicely,” Mr. Trump said to the crowd in Guilford, “and I needed the one point. Now I’d like to win the whole state. Could you mind, please?”

Ana Swanson and Lisa Friedman contributed reporting.


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