Updated Jun 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump backs off push to federalize forces against riots

US President Donald Trump walks back to the White House escorted by the Secret Service after appearing outside of St John's Episcopal church across Lafayette Park in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020
Photo: Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images

A day after threatening to federalize forces to snuff out riots across the country, the president appears to be backing off the idea of invoking the Insurrection Act, sources familiar with his plans tell Axios.

What we're hearing: Aides say he hasn’t ruled out its use at some point, but that he's “pleased” with the way protests were handled last night (apart from in New York City, as he indicated on Twitter today) — and that for now he's satisfied with leaving the crackdown to states through local law enforcement and the National Guard.

  • "The law is absolutely still on the table if things get really bad, but as of now he doesn't think it's going to have to go that far,” an administration official tells Axios.
  • A second official said Trump saw and continues to see the act as a mechanism only if governors can't contain chaos in their states.
  • White House spokesman Judd Deere tells Axios: "As President Trump has said, we cannot allow the voices of peaceful protestors to be drowned out by angry mobs, which is why the President will continue to take lawful, decisive action to stop the violence and restore the security of all Americans."

This resetting of expectations follows words of caution on Tuesday from some key Senate Republicans allies of the president, who said all other options should be exhausted.

  • Invoking the Insurrection Act "should be our last resort," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Tuesday. "I don’t think the Pentagon’s keen on getting brought into this unless they absolutely have to. We need to restore order, but using active duty military troops in circumstances like this is a fairly rare occurrence."
  • "I would prefer that these things be handled by the state and local authorities," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said. "You want to de-escalate, rather than escalate."

Between the lines: On a call with governors yesterday afternoon, an "infuriated" Trump berated the state leaders as “weak” and urged them to "dominate" looters and rioters, or risk "looking like a bunch of jerks," per a source on the call.

  • Trump's takeaway in the hours that followed was that his threats got through and that governors and local leaders across the country stepped up to restore order, the sources said.
  • One source said that sentiment was reflected in a Tuesday morning tweet by the president: "D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great (thank you President Trump!)."

Worth noting: Sources cautioned Trump could still change his mind depending on how future protests unfold — and that, if he did, he would move quickly.

  • "The next few nights will be critical," one administration official told Axios.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a comment from a Pentagon official.

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