White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday compared President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE’s photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s examination of World War II bombing damage in 1941.
The press secretary likened the controversial walk by Trump, which was immediately preceded by police aggressively pushing peaceful protesters out of Lafayette Square, not only to the famous Churchill visit but also to several notable moments in U.S. presidential history.
“Through all of time, we have seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for a nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination,” she said, "Like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage. It sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people.”
McEnany then mentioned former President George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"And George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after 9/11 and Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterAmerica needs a new strategy for Pacific Island Countries Afghanistan and the lessons that history does not offer What's at stake — and in play — for the midterms MORE putting on a sweater to encourage energy savings and George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act flanked by two disabled Americans," added McEnany, who looked at notes on her podium as she spoke.
“For this president, it was powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters the anarchists, they will not prevail, that burning churches are not what America is about,” McEnany said.
Trump has faced blowback from religious leaders, Democrats and some Republicans for the photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Monday evening.
Mariann Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said Trump held up a copy of the Bible in front of the historic church "as if it were a prop or an extension of his military and authoritarian position."
"I don’t want President Trump speaking for St. John’s," Budde told The Washington Post shortly after Trump's visit. "I am outraged."
Trump’s visit to the church, which was briefly set on fire the night prior amid violent protests in the nation’s capital, came after he delivered a speech pressuring states and cities to crack down on protesters.
Trump described himself as an “ally” of peaceful protesters but decried destructive protests that he attributed to anarchists, looters, antifa and others, insisting on the importance of maintaining “law and order.” He also warned he was prepared to send in the military to secure cities and states that do not sufficiently crack down on demonstrations.
“These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror,” Trump said during the Rose Garden address. “The destruction of innocent life and the spilling of innocent blood is an offense to humanity and a crime against God.”
McEnany said Monday that the decision to clear Lafayette Square was made by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrAttorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Milley moved to limit Trump military strike abilities after Jan. 6, Woodward book claims: report Former US attorney enters race for governor in Pennsylvania MORE Monday morning, “long before” discussion about Trump’s visit to the church. The protesters were cleared just after 6:30 p.m. Monday evening, ahead of a 7 p.m. citywide curfew. Law enforcement officers used chemical agents to clear the crowds.
On Wednesday, McEnany said authorities used appropriate force in clearing the protesters, noting a statement from U.S. Park Police that described demonstrators throwing bricks and frozen water bottles at authorities.
“I think U.S. Park [Police], when having bricks thrown at them and frozen water bottles, had the right to act,” McEnany told reporters. “They acted with the appropriate level of force to protect themselves, to protect the average citizenry and to protect the peaceful protesters who were among them as well.”
Updated at 5 p.m.