KENOSHA, Wis. - Joe Biden said Thursday, Aug. 27 that President Donald Trump is “rooting for more violence" amid racially charged unrest in Wisconsin, and that he'd be willing to visit the state himself to try and defuse tensions.
“He views this as a political benefit," the Democratic presidential nominee said of Trump on MSNBC hours before the president will address the final night of the Republican National Convention. "He’s rooting for more violence, not less. And it’s clear about that.”
President Donald Trump, Joe Biden
Later on CNN, Biden repeated that assertion, saying: “These guys are rooting for violence. That's what it's all about.”
Biden was referring to ongoing protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times Sunday by police. A 17-year-old gunman has been arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of two protesters in clashes between vigilante militias and protesters.
Statement by Vice President Joe Biden on "Donald Trump’s America"
"Last night, Vice President Mike Pence stood before America and with a straight face said, “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
"The violence you’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America.
"Did Mike Pence forget Donald Trump is president? Is Donald Trump even aware he’s president? These are not images from some imagined “Joe Biden’s America” in the future. These are images from Donald Trump’s America today. The violence we’re witnessing is happening under Donald Trump. Not me. It’s getting worse, and we know why.
"Donald Trump refuses to even acknowledge there is a racial justice problem in America. To solve this problem, first we have to honestly admit the problem. But he won’t do it. Instead of looking to calm the waters, he adds fuel to every fire. Violence isn’t a problem in his eyes – it’s a political strategy. And the more of it, the better for him.
"One of his top White House advisors said it flat out earlier today. "The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who's best on public safety and law and order." The better it is.
"I have made it clear. There is no place for violence, looting, or burning. None. Zero.
"All it does it hurt the communities reeling from injustice – and it destroys the businesses that serve them – many of them run by people of color who for the first time in their lives have begun to build wealth for their family.
"But while I have condemned all forms of violence – police violence, lawless violence and violence perpetrated by extreme, right-wing militia groups – like the groups the 17-year-old just arrested in Illinois for murdering two people in Wisconsin is reputed to have been aligned with. Trump doesn’t speak out against these extreme right-wing groups. Instead – as he did about Charlottesville – he embraces them.
"If you’re worried about the violence you’re witnessing, you better be worried about the armed militias – often aligned with white supremacists and white nationalists and Neo-Nazis and the KKK – who are often the source of the biggest trouble.
"I am sure Donald Trump will stand before America and say the same things his vice president said last night. And when he does, remember: every example of violence he decries has happened on his watch. Under his leadership. During his presidency.
"And of course, as has been true all week, I’m sure there will barely be a mention of what more than 300 million Americans fear the most right now – contracting COVID-19. 180,000 Americans have lost their lives under this president to this virus.
"And there will almost certainly be no mention of the catastrophic impact his failure to deal with the virus has had on this nation’s economy – the millions of people who have lost their jobs, their health care, their homes, their small businesses.
"So when Donald Trump says tonight you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America, look around and ask yourself: How safe do you feel in Donald Trump’s America?"
Biden's running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, called Blake’s shooting “sickening to watch” and “all too familiar” as she began a major speech Thursday billed as a criticism of Trump’s failure of leadership on the coronavirus.
“It’s no wonder people are taking to the streets -- and I support them,” she said. “Make no mistake: We will not let these vigilantes and extremists derail the path to justice.”
On both networks, Biden cited comments made earlier Thursday by White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who suggested on “Fox & Friends” that the Wisconsin unrest could help Trump's reelection chances.
“The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns," Conway said "the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”
First Lady Melania Trump and US President Donald Trump listen to the US National Anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," during the third night of the Republican National Convention at Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore, Maryland, August 26, 202
Conway later expanded the thought to Hurricane Laura's destruction in telling reporters at the White House that she doesn’t “look at the hurricanes or what’s happening in Kenosha as political. I look at it as a matter of safety and safety.” Still, Biden seized on her original comment, asking when someone speaking behalf of a president “ever said something like that? Ever?”
He told CNN that cheering violence was an attempt by Trump to distract voters' attention from the coronavirus pandemic continuing to ravage the country and an economy in free fall, saying, “It takes everybody’s eye off the ball.” He added, ”using division and hate is the only way he stays in office."
Until Thursday, Biden and Harris had remained mostly silent through the GOP convention’s first days. Biden’s interview marked his most public comments this week, while Harris delivered a speech from Washington on Thursday excoriating Trump for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout.
She blasted Republicans for failing to paint a true picture of the virus's toll during their convention.
“The Republican convention is designed for one purpose: to soothe Donald Trump’s ego, to make him feel good,” she said.
Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, weighed in on the shooting of Blake and the unrest in the state on FOX News Thursday. Walker in 2014 signed a bill into law requiring an outside investigation if police take someone's life -- passed unanimously by the state Senate and Assembly in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Michael Bell, Jr. in 2004.
Republicans have tried to use their convention to tie the Democratic ticket to the protests — which have included some looting and violence — and have erroneously said Biden supports defunding police departments around the country. Biden doesn't hold that position, but has advocated for overhauling U.S. police practices after years of high-profile killings of Black Americans by officers. Harris sponsored a bill in Congress to ban certain police practices like chokeholds and no-knock warrants and create a national registry for police misconduct, among other reforms.
Biden has largely limited travel to near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, during the pandemic. But he told MSNBC he’d consider traveling to Kenosha himself, while adding, “I don’t want to become part of the problem and I want to make sure it’s able to be done safely and we bring some competence.”
“If I were president I’d be going,” Biden said. “But it’s hard to tell now what the circumstance on the ground is.”
Should he make the trip, Biden said, he would attempt to “pull together the Black community as well as the white community and sit down and talk about how we get through this.”
As protests over institutional racism and police brutality have swept the country for months, Biden also said that he opposes violence in Wisconsin or anywhere else: “I don’t think that’s what Kenosha’s about," he said on MSNBC. "I don’t think that’s what Black and white America’s about.”
But also he said of Trump, “He just keeps pouring fuel on the fire. He's encouraging this. He's not diminishing this at all.”
“This is his America now," Biden said, "And, if you want to end where we are now, we’ve got to end his tenure as president.”