Eleven minutes later, they were interrupted – by a number of angry tweets from President Trump. In praise of federal officers, Trump warned protesters about the “evil dogs” and “ominous weapons” at their disposal. As the mayor’s chief of staff read the tweets aloud, Trump crippled Bowser.
Trump wrote that the Democratic mayor “as always looking for money and help, would not let the D.C. police get involved. “Not their job.” Lovely! “It was a false accusation. The mayor had never said those words.
Bowser (D) and her team ended their discussion, said a city official with knowledge of the call, and then “the group went back to the tweet and how the mayor should respond.”
The response has been emphatic. Since Trump’s personal attack on May 30, Bowser has fought hard back against the president’s bullying, taunting him with tweets and criticisms of her own. On Friday, she rebuked him with a defiant display of street art, attempting to make a clear contrast to Trump’s calls for “law and order” by demonstrating active support for peaceful protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Over the past 10 days – seen in the wake of the fierce national protests over police violence – their once relatively temperate relationship has erupted in an ugly schism carried with the overtones of race and power that have fueled the protests, as well as the leaders long and fruitless battle for DC statehood.
For Trump, the row has resembled the frequent ugly political battles he has had, often on his run, with several Democratic mayors and governors as he has sought to portray them as incompetent leaders of dysfunctional cities and states. Relief partners said the president believes that Bowser, despite seeing violence in protests in other cities, was slow to respond – and that scenes of fire and looting in the nation’s capital hurt public confidence, just as the president pushed to reopen the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“If the images of DC are that the White House is under siege, people across the country will be concerned,” said one outside Trump’s adviser, who, like other presidential confidants, spoke for this story on condition of anonymity to detail private conversations. “The economy will not continue to grow and reopen.”
For Bowser, the confrontation has centered on her belief that Trump’s display of power has emboldened law enforcement amid the nationwide protests following George Floyd’s death in custody of Minneapolis police two weeks ago. In her view, federal authorities have swarmed parts of downtown Washington in what looks like a military takeover that has scared residents, though arrests have fallen sharply in recent days – a reminder that the federal city does not enjoy the autonomous autonomy of 50 states.
“We should have control over what happens,” said John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff.
‘Afraid / alone’
When the mayor and her team weighed in on a response to Trump’s tweets, Saturday morning, it wasn’t his personal attack that angered Bowser the most, according to aides.
Rather, it was his use of the term “evil dogs” that the mayor, who is African American, considered racist. A day earlier, Trump had used the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to threaten Minneapolis protesters, repeating the threats of a 1967 white Miami police chief who had angered black civil rights leaders.
“It’s not a flute. It’s quite offensive, ”Falcicchio said of Trump’s language.
“She found that phrase. To think of her parents, their peers, people who actually had to go through it. She went to Selma just a year and a half ago with John Lewis, ”he said, referring to the Georgia Democratic congressman, who is a civil rights icon.
An hour after Trump’s tweets, the mayor hit back with a few of his own. She defended D.C. police, saying it would protect all of the city’s residents, including the protesters and Trump. Then she mocked him for hiding in the executive mansion behind the wrought iron fence in the White House.
“There are no vicious dogs and vicious weapons,” she wrote. “There’s just a scared man. Afraid / alone. “
The tomb appeared for the purpose of humiliating Trump, who is adamant in projecting strength. Although mayor aides said Bowser didn’t know it at the time, the Secret Service had moved Trump to a safe bunker during the White House during the chaos Friday, a detail published in a New York Times report last Sunday.
This reveal angered Trump, who initially denied it, and he became more determined to seize the center stage in stopping the protests. The Washington Post subsequently reported that the transition to the bunker was requested by a group of protesters skipping temporary barricades set up near the Treasury Department’s grounds.
Presidential aides had informed him that D.C. police were struggling to control crowds around Lafayette Square, a federal precinct monitored by the U.S. Park Police. On May 31, Republican senators and other Trump allies flooded the White House with calls to ask him to take action.
Trump watched TV news coverage of fires and protests. Arrests by DC police rose from zero on May 29 to 19 the next day and 90 the following day, and the president was so heated that he jumped at the thought of sending thousands of military troops into Washington’s streets – and into other cities , if local leaders failed to discourage looting and violence.
“Why did things deteriorate so quickly? Because for two solid days, nothing happened in Washington, D.C., when it was within the mayor’s power to make sure something could happen, “said a senior Trump administration official who has dealt with Bowser. “You had pictures on national television of burning facilities, which were reportedly a church and parts of a park in the center of our nation’s capital, which sent a very bad message to the world.”
Bowser had implemented an 11 p.m. curfew May 31, but reports that a blaze had destroyed the iconic, pale yellow St. John’s Episcopal Church – located across Lafayette Square Park from the White House and long attended by presidents – provided an opportunity for Trump to contest control.
A political inferno
The mayor arrived in Lafayette Square Monday morning. After an interview with the show “Today”, she toured the damage to the church school in the basement.
Water soaked off the floor, and Bowser, wearing a black face mask amid the coronavirus pandemic, gently stepped on a wooden plank to look for it. A cellphone photo taken by a mayoral aide shows charred walls, visible electrical wiring and a room covered in dirt.
The fire was extinguished. But the political inferno just became inflammatory.
After leaving the church, Bowser announced a town full 7 p.m. curfew for Monday and Tuesday nights.
The White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, contacted the mayor and floated a proposal for a federal takeover of the city’s police department – a very offensive view of city leaders still scarred by the federal government’s financial takeover of an almost bankrupt DC government in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Bowser balked, promising that the city would strengthen enforcement.
City officials met that day with FBI, military and Justice Department officials to develop a security plan for Monday night. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham expressed a willingness to cooperate with the administration, said two officials with knowledge of the meeting.
But as protesters swelled in Lafayette Square, federal authorities chose not to wait until the curfew got underway.
Kl. 06:43, Trump began remarks in the Rose Garden and pledged support for peaceful protesters, but he chastised the looters for committing “domestic terrorist acts”.
“We are all warning: our 7-hour curfew will be strictly enforced,” Trump declared – although the city had the sole enforcement authority.
While the president was speaking, cable networks offered a shared display of protesters in the park. In a shocking scene, Park Police, equipped with chemical gas tanks, rubber projectiles and metal rebel shields, cleaned them up sharply.
Moments later, Trump and his senior aides, including military leaders, roamed the park to get a photo outside St. John’s. John’s, with the president brandishing a Bible. Unlike Bowser, they did not go in.
“On Monday, you saw something you hoped to never see in the United States of America: federal police moving toward American people protested peacefully in front of the people’s house,” Bowser said Saturday afternoon, remembering the scene when she met with protesters.
By the end of Monday, 289 people would be arrested, according to D.C. police statistics, the most since the protests began.
‘She is weak’
Unlike governors, Bowser does not oversee the National Guard in Washington, and guard reinforcements from other states are poured into the city at the request of the Trump administration. Federal authorities moved to expand security fences to enclose Lafayette Square to the north and Ellipse to the south.
Bowser fought back, demanding that all non-resident federal forces be removed. On Thursday, she expressed public alarm that the new federal security perimeter would become permanent, and she sent Trump a letter saying that the presence of federal forces “inflamed” the situation and was unnecessary. Arrests of protesters had dropped to 29 on Tuesday and zero on Wednesday, according to D.C. police.
As Trump saw it, according to the outside adviser who spoke with him, Bowser was grateful for the National Guard protection and was eager to win political points with Democrats by kicking the guard out of town.
“She’s weak,” Trump said repeatedly, according to the adviser. The president has boasted to White House officials this week that his actions were the main reasons why the protests became less disruptive, according to aides.
But Bowser wasn’t done claiming her on the city streets. At a meeting with staff, Bower revealed a plan to add a symbolic flourish to her letter to Trump: She would rename the intersection of 16th and H streets NW, next to Lafayette Square and St. John’s Church, as “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”
As night fell on Thursday, a team of eight murals designed the design and, under the dark cover at 1 p.m. On Friday, they began painting 50-foot-high, bright yellow letters spelling “BLACK LIVES MATTER” along 16th Street leading toward the White House.
White House officials viewed the move as a serious escalation and warned that the mayor has done “irreparable damage” to her relationship with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
But Bowser remained uninvited. On Saturday, as he marched with protesters to the newly clarified plaza, the mayor offered another shot at her antagonist.
“Today we say ‘no’,” said the mayor. “In November we say ‘next’.”