Trump: Strong economic rebound is ‘great day’ for George Floyd

Mario Parker and Josh Wingrove

President Donald Trump invoked the memory of George Floyd, the black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis last week, as he touted the U.S. economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying there’s a great thing happening for our country,” Trump said in remarks at the White House on Friday. “It’s a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody.”

Trump named Floyd in the midst of extemporaneous remarks in which he both celebrated the jobs numbers, calling them “a tremendous tribute to equality,” and called for Americans to receive “equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, color, gender or creed.”

President Donald Trump speaks as he signs the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, June 5, 2020.

The White House argued that the the president meant Floyd would appreciate the latter remarks.

“It was very clear the president was talking about the fight for equal justice and equal treatment under the law when he made this comment,” Ben Williamson, a White House communications adviser, said on Twitter.

But Trump repeatedly pointed to the economy as a salve for the nation’s strained race relations. Asked by a reporter for his plan to address racial inequality, Trump answered: “Because our country is so strong. And that’s what my plan is. We’re going to have the strongest economy in the world. We almost are there now.”

He also said that “what’s happened to our country and what you now see,” referring to the jobs report, “is the greatest thing that can happen for race relations, for the African-American community, or the Asian-American, or the Hispanic-American community for women, for everything.”

Friday’s surprise jobs report appeared to herald an economic from the coronavirus pandemic. Payrolls rose 2.5 million in May after falling 20.5 million in April, the largest drop on record. Economists had forecast that the U.S. would lose an average of 7.5 million jobs in May.

But while overall unemployment improved in May, the rate for African Americans ticked up to 16.8%. Latino unemployment is 17.6%.

Trump has grappled with his response to Floyd’s death – he’s condemned the incident and the officers involved, but he’s also tried to snuff out protests demanding justice, police accountability and broader actions to address racial inequality in the country. Trump has no plans to attend Floyd’s funeral Tuesday in Houston.

The president has threatened to deploy active-duty military forces to combat protesters in U.S. cities, drawing rebukes from political leaders in both parties. He faced a direct challenge to his leadership from his current and former defense secretaries this week, who issued a pair of rare public dissents questioning the president’s threat to use military force.

Religious leaders and politicians in both parties condemned Trump for allowing protesters to be violently dispersed from Lafayette Square in front of the White House on Monday before he walked to a historic church to hold a Bible in front of cameras.

Trump’s approval rating has slipped 2.5 points in the week and a half since Floyd died in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer who knelt into his neck for more than eight minutes.

The president’s average approval rating in the RealClearPolitics average fell to 42.8% Thursday, its lowest point since November, when revelations of his involvement in the Ukraine scandal emerged. His impeachment by the House and eventual acquittal in the Senate gave his approval a temporary bump.

Before the pandemic, the job losses it triggered and the death of Floyd, Trump had been ramping up appeals to black voters. He frequently claimed he’d driven black unemployment rates to the lowest levels in U.S. history.

The president has long struggled with addressing issues of race. In 2017, he said there were “very fine people” on both sides of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that erupted in violence and left one person dead. Last summer, he called Baltimore – a black-majority city – a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”