Pelosi, holding a Bible, urges Trump to help the country heal

A reserved Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Trump's WHO decision raises bipartisan concerns in House Five takeaways from PPP loan data MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday called on President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE to tone down his combative approach to the national protests for racial justice that have followed the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis last week.

Clutching a Bible in the Capitol, Pelosi urged Trump to reach across the divides of race, party, region and religion to help the country heal instead.

"We would hope that the president of the United States would follow the lead of so many other presidents before him to be a healer-in-chief, and not a fanner of the flame," she said.

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The appearance of a Bible was no accident. On Monday evening, just before a curfew took hold in Washington, Trump had strolled just north of the White House to the boarded up St. John’s Episcopal Church — a target of arsonists the night before — where he held a Bible aloft while the cameras clicked away.  

"It's a Bible," he said in short remarks. "We have a great country. That's my thoughts. The greatest country in the world."

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Trump's photo-op has prompted plenty of scrutiny, particularly from Democrats already up in arms over his threat — made moments before from the Rose Garden — to deploy the military to douse the violent protests that have raged across the country in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

But it was what happened shortly before Trump's church visit that's getting most of the attention. To clear the area around St. John's, including the expansive Lafayette Square Park, federal law enforcers had attacked peaceful protestors with a curtain of tear gas and smoke bombs, sending demonstrators scurrying out of the park.

The president has said he supports the First Amendment right to peaceful protest, and has his sights set only on the vandals, looters and other violent demonstrators. But the image of peaceful protesters being assaulted on Trump's orders just steps from the White House belied his claims. And Pelosi, joined by Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTrump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? Pompeo: US 'certainly looking at' ban on Chinese social media apps like TikTok Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide MORE (D-N.Y.), issued a scathing statement Monday night condemning the attacks as "cowardly, weak and dangerous."

On Tuesday morning, Pelosi softened her tone, characterizing the episode as "a most unfortunate situation" and referencing passages from Ecclesiastes in calling for calm.

"Peaceful demonstrators ... in front of the White House were beaten — some people came out and beat them so they could clear the area so the president could come out and go forward. What is that?" she asked. "That has no place, and it's time for us to do away with that, a time to heal."

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Pelosi cited the actions and words of past presidents faced with similar situations, including former President George H.W. Bush, who urged unity following the Rodney King beating in 1991, and former President Obama, who called for healing following the death of Eric Garner during a violent arrest in New York in 2014.

"It is incumbent upon all of us as Americans — regardless of race, religion, region, faith — that we recognize that this is an American problem, and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem," Pelosi said. "This is an American problem."

In response to Floyd's death, Democrats on Capitol Hill are putting together a series of proposals designed to address age-old racial disparities in the criminal justice system. That will include an effort to rein in racial profiling — "a universal affliction that we must be rid of," Pelosi said.  

The effort, which is being led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, has seen some disagreement between Democrats pushing for a sweeping, comprehensive criminal justice overhaul and those advocating a more piecemeal approach. But those differences will be ironed out shortly, Pelosi said, "and I think the American people will be well-served."

"This is not a single incident; We know that it's a pattern of behavior," she said. "We also know the history that takes us to this sad place."