President Trump defended what he called a “very symbolic” photo-op on Monday in front of St. John’s Church, saying he had heard from evangelical leaders who approved of the event and dismissing criticism as partisan.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who oversees the church, had criticized Trump’s Monday event, saying that he had used “violent means” to clear the area of protesters and that he did not pray at the church or offer “balm or condolence to those who are grieving” and protesting the death of George Floyd.
But in an interview Wednesday on Fox News Radio, Trump said evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress — who are prominent Trump supporters — approved of the symbolism of the event.
“Most religious leaders loved it,” Trump said. “Why wouldn’t they love it?”
He said, “It’s only the other side that didn’t like it.”
Pressed on what he planned to do to address longstanding concerns about police brutality against African Americans, Trump said that “we have to get the police departments to do better,” but he did not offer specifics.
He repeated his threat that he would bring in military forces to address violent protests if states refused to use the National Guard to help quell rioting. “If they don’t get their act straightened out, I will fix it,” he said.
Trump also confirmed that he spent time last weekend in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center — a bunker underneath the White House. But he denied reports that the Secret Service rushed him to the bunker due to concerns about his safety during the protests.
He said he had visited the center for a “very short period of time” during daytime hours “more for an inspection,” but he said the Secret Service did not tell him to shelter in the bunker.