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Trump sidesteps Blake shooting to extol law enforcement in Kenosha

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE on Tuesday toured property damage and lauded law enforcement in Kenosha, Wis., while largely sidestepping the police shooting of Jacob Blake there that set off days of demonstrations and renewed calls for systemic reform to policing and racial justice.

Trump visited the city of 100,000 despite calls from state and local leaders that he stay away, warning he may further inflame tensions. The city has been wracked by demonstrations that have at times devolved into violence after a police officer shot Blake seven times in the back more than a week ago. Blake is now in critical condition in the hospital.

The president surveyed the remnants of B&L Office Furniture, a furniture store that was severely damaged during riots in Kenosha last week, and spoke to its owners. During the later roundtable, Trump pledged to devote federal resources to help businesses and law enforcement in the city.

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But the bulk of his focus was on propping up the need for law and order across the country, part of a weeks-long effort to elevate unruly protesters as a key campaign issue. Trump again blamed Democratic leaders for escalating tensions in cities, and he focused repeatedly on unrest in Portland, Ore., despite being in Kenosha.

“Some people thought it would be a good thing for me to come, a bad thing, I just wanted to come. I really came today to thank law enforcement,” Trump said.

The president only referenced Blake when asked by the media about the shooting, and he did not mention the victim's name. Trump said he doesn’t believe racism is systemic in law enforcement and declined to engage with questions about the goal of peaceful protesters or whether he believes there is systemic racism in the United States, pivoting in each case to defend police and keep the focus on the riots that have broken out in some cities, which he claimed were undercovered by the media.

“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 in other places,” Trump said when asked about systemic racism.

Asked for his message to Blake’s family, Trump demurred, noting the ongoing investigation into the matter, which he called  a “complicated subject.” The Justice Department and Wisconsin officials are currently investigating the shooting, which occurred on Aug. 23.

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Trump invited Pastor James Ward of INSIGHT Church, the pastor for Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, to participate in the roundtable. When a reporter posed a question about bias within law enforcement to Ward, Trump jumped in to defend the vast majority of police as good actors.

“I don’t believe that. I think the police do an incredible job. I think they do have some bad apples,” Trump said. 

Ward offered a prayer during the event at Trump’s request, and he and his wife, Sharon, who is also a pastor, talked about bringing unity to the country and addressing pain afflicting the black community.

“We are here to be of service to you and to our country to bring unity,” Ward said. “We believe that we can help to listen with empathy and compassion to the real pain that hurts Black Americans, but we want to be of service to you and to our nation to do whatever we can to bring true healing, true peace and to really see god’s really best in our country.”

Trump spoke with Ward on Monday but has not spoken directly to the Blake family, saying that they wanted lawyers involved in the conversation, which he called “inappropriate.” It is unclear if the president will speak with the family at some point in the future, but he offered Jackson well wishes in his remarks Tuesday, saying he heard she was a “fine woman.”

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Attorney General William BarrBill BarrClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Five federal inmates scheduled for execution before Inauguration Day Redeeming justice: the next attorney general MORE and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfBiden picks first Latino to lead Homeland Security Republican senators urge Trump to label West Bank goods as 'Made in Israel' Judge says acting DHS secretary appointment unlawful, invalidates DACA suspension MORE also joined Trump on the trip, and each echoed Trump in focusing on the need to address violence and support law enforcement. Barr in his remarks decried “mob violence” and said that the property damage in Kenosha was “simply not a legitimate response to a police shooting.”

“The looting and the arson were unacceptable,” Barr said. “As it progressed, it became more and more distant from the issue of racial justice. It was violence for violence’s sake.”

Trump announced Tuesday that his administration would provide roughly $1 million to support Kenosha law enforcement, nearly $4 million for local businesses affected by recent unrest and close to $13 million for statewide efforts to prosecute criminals.

The underlying political stakes of Tuesday’s visit were apparent. Wisconsin is a critical battleground state in November’s election after Trump carried it by roughly 23,000 votes in 2016. A Morning Consult poll released the morning of Trump’s trip to Kenosha found Biden with a 9-point lead over Trump in Wisconsin.

Trump’s motorcade was met in Wisconsin by a mix of supporters holding signs and others holding Black Lives Matter signs.

A majority of Americans have disapproved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and strategists and political experts in the Badger State viewed Trump’s focus on law and order as a clear effort to appeal to rural voters and shift the discussion.

Gov. Tony EversTony EversWisconsin police still searching for mall shooting suspect The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Stocks close with losses as states, cities reimpose COVID-19 restrictions MORE (D) and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian (D) had both urged Trump not to come to the city on Tuesday, arguing his presence would stoke divisions as tensions were just beginning to cool. The president a day earlier had defended an Illinois teenager accused of killing two protesters in Kenosha during unrest there last Tuesday.

“We’re here to show our support for Kenosha and Wisconsin,” Trump said. “The state of Wisconsin has been very good for me. We’ve done a lot for the state and we will continue to do a lot for the state.”