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President Trump with Esper following behind him. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told NBC on Tuesday he had no notice that he was being led with President Trump on Monday to a photo op at St. John's Episcopal Church, saying: "I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops."

Why it matters: The visit has received backlash from both sides of the political aisle as well as clergy from the church.

  • The Trump administration used physical force and pepper balls to disperse crowds from outside the White House so the president could snap the photo.

What he's saying: "I didn't know where I was going," Esper told NBC. "I wanted to see how much damage actually happened."

  • Esper also said he had no awareness of plans to disperse protesters, but that he's very proud of the National Guard" following their nationwide response to civil unrests.

Go deeper

Trump to visit Kenosha amid anger over Jacob Blake shooting

President Trump visiting an emergency operation center in Orange, Texas, on Saturday. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump will visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday amid unrest over the Aug. 23 police shooting that left Jacob Blake paralyzed from the waist down, the White House confirmed.

Why it matters: Per AP, Trump's trip is "certain to exacerbate tensions in the city, where a crowd of about 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside a courthouse Saturday to denounce police violence." White House spokesperson Judd Deere told reporters the president would "survey damage from recent riots," AFP reports. Trump is touting his law and order credentials as he seeks re-election.

Go deeper: Trump and Biden ready to refight 1968

Local news moves to the inbox

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of new companies are launching platforms for local newsletters, a shift that could help finally bring the local news industry into the digital era.

Driving the news: Substack, the email publishing platform for independent journalists, on Thursday announced a new local news platform.

J&J vaccine pause hurts its reputation

Reproduced from Economist/YouGov poll; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans' confidence in the safety of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine took a big dip this week after the pause in its use, per new YouGov polling, even though the risk of blood clots following the shot is extremely low, if it exists at all.

Why it matters: For the majority of people, particularly high-risk Americans, getting the J&J shot is almost certainly less dangerous than remaining vulnerable to the coronavirus.