The fight for the suburbs continues, and Trump continues to try to scare them.
He wanted to send the military into American cities, an idea that provoked a heated, voices-raised fight among his advisers. But by the end of the day, urged on by his daughter Ivanka Trump, he came up with a more personal way of demonstrating toughness — he would march across Lafayette Square to a church damaged by fire the night before.
The only problem: A plan developed earlier in the day to expand the security perimeter around the White House had not been carried out. When Attorney General William P. Barr strode out of the White House gates for a personal inspection early Monday evening, he discovered that protesters were still on the northern edge of the square. For the president to make it to St. John’s Church, they would have to be cleared out. Mr. Barr gave the order to disperse them.
Inside the White House nearby, Mr. Trump was coming up with his plan to walk to the church. Several administration officials said it was his own idea; two officials said that during a senior staff meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Meadows credited the president’s daughter. It was crafted during an Oval Office meeting the day before that included Ms. Trump; Mr. Meadows; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser; and Hope Hicks, another top adviser.
At some point, Anthony Ornato, a Secret Service veteran who serves as deputy chief of staff for operations, was brought in to coordinate the logistics of the visit. Ms. Hicks came up with the visuals for how it would look. But officials privately conceded that little thought was given to what Mr. Trump would do once he actually got to the church. There was some discussion of going inside, but it was boarded up.
The president and his team decided he would first make a statement in the Rose Garden in which he would express sympathy for the family of George Floyd, the black man who died in Minneapolis when a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, but then he would take a strong stance in favor of reclaiming the streets. He would threaten to invoke the Insurrection Act if governors and mayors did not do a better job of security. Reporters were told a statement would be coming, but the march to the church was kept a secret.
When he reached St. John’s, Mr. Trump made no pretense of any intent other than posing for photographs — he held up the Bible carried by his daughter, then gathered a few top advisers next to him in a line. He made no formal remarks and then, having accomplished his purpose, headed back to the White House, passing in front of a wall with new graffiti saying, “Fuck Trump.”
Mark Esper thought the walk was to survey public toilet damage.