White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday defended President Trump's visit to St. John's Episcopal Church for a photo op Monday, comparing it to Winston Churchill inspecting bombing damage during World War II and George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch after 9/11.

Why it matters: Trump has received widespread criticism for the visit, including from clergy members at the church and even some Republican lawmakers. In order to safely allow the president and his entourage to walk to the church, police were ordered to forcibly remove largely peaceful protesters with smoke canisters and pepper balls.

The big picture: McEnany called the display a "message of resilience and determination," and said it was important for Trump to make the visit because rioters had set a fire in the basement of the historic church the night before.

  • She said Trump wanted to show that violence "would not prevail" and that the president holding the Bible "was an important symbol for the American people to see that we will get through this through unity and faith."
  • McEnany also said that Attorney General Bill Barr ordered the perimeter of Lafayette Square to be cleared on Monday morning, not the White House. She did not clarify why police didn't fulfill the order until that evening, shortly before Trump and his aides walked to the church.

What she's saying:

"I would note that through all of time, we have seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for a nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination. Like Churchill — we saw him inspecting the bombing damage, it sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people. And George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after 9/11, and Jimmy Carter putting on a sweater to encourage energy savings, and George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act flanked by two disabled Americans.
And for this president, it was powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters, the anarchists, they will not prevail. That burning churches are not what America is about, and that moment, holding the Bible up, is something that has been wildly hailed by Franklin Graham and others and it was a very important symbol for the American people to see that we will get through this through unity and through faith."
— Kayleigh McEnany at a press briefing Wednesday

Go deeper: National Park Service defends clearing of protesters outside White House

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