With barricades and a heavy police presence, President Trump’s first stop in Dallas was marked with protesters and supporters and dueling shouts and signs invoking “Black Lives Matter” or “Make America Great Again.”
Billed as a roundtable with faith leaders, small business owners, and law enforcement, the president arrived at the Dallas campus of Gateway Church in the afternoon. The official White House event comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Dallas County and the Dow Jones tumbled more than 1,800 points.
Gateway Church has several campuses around North Dallas and is led by Pastor Robert Morris, who is on the White House’s Executive Council of Evangelical Leaders. Morris was one of a number of religious leaders Gov. Greg Abbott turned to when he wanted to drum up support for the 2017 failed “bathroom bill.” Abbott was on hand to greet Air Force One when it landed at Love Field Airport along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The three top law enforcement officials in Dallas, D.A. John Creuzot, Police Chief Renee Hall, and Sheriff Marian Brown were not invited to the roundtable (all three are Black). Several White House officials including Attorney General William Barr, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams made the trip as well. A crowd of just over 650 (who all received temperature checks) were inside the church in every other seat with very few people wearing facemasks.
In front of a backdrop emblazoned with “Transition to Greatness,” the president touted his record on the economy including the lowest Black unemployment ever, “until the plague from China came.”
One of the participants at the roundtable included Dr. Robin Armstrong, a physician and former vice chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. As the medical director of a nursing facility in Texas City, Armstrong administered one of the first tests of the controversial antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients. Other members of the roundtable included former NFL player Jack Brewer and Glenn Heights Police Chief Vernell Dooley.
Trump earned a hearty round of applause from the audience when he said his administration would not be defunding the police. He said they would be going the “opposite way” with more training and equipment for police departments. Trump did not acknowledge any systemic racism within law enforcement. “And you always have a bad apple no matter where you go,” he told the crowd.
He also criticized Jay Inslee, the Governor of Washington, claiming he wanted the police force closed. Trump also reiterated his previous calls to dominate the street, amending the phrase, “we’re dominating the street with compassion.”
Later in the roundtable, Trump joked about the amount of money he provided to Gov. Abbott in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Earlier in the day, FEMA rejected an appeal for federal disaster relief to Dallas after tornadoes destroyed a number of homes and businesses in October.
When the roundtable finished, Trump’s motorcade traveled a few miles away for an in-person fundraiser. The White House had previously announced Trump would be traveling to Dallas for a campaign fundraiser (the first since the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated in early March). Coupling the fundraiser with an official White House event insured the campaign could use taxpayer funds for transportation.
Tickets for the Trump Victory Fund fundraiser were $580,600 per couple. Attendees received a COVID-19 test prior to the event, held at the home of Kelcy Warren, Chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the oil company responsible for building the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Trump administration was instrumental in getting that project completed.
Warren is a prolific Republican donor. According to FEC disclosures, this year he has given over $200,000 to the NRCC and $250,000 to the American Freedom Fund super PAC.
The fundraiser was expected to raise over $10 million for the Trump campaign. The exact address of the fundraiser was obfuscated with some misinformation from the Trump campaign, complicating plans for the Dallas County party. Several protesters located the proper host and positioned themselves accordingly in time to meet the motorcade.
Carol Donovan, Chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party, was a part of the protest. In a statement to the Texas Signal she said, “Donald Trump seems totally out of touch with reality, he still thinks [COVID-19] has disappeared and he still thinks there’s no systemic racism in the United States, and I don’t know how anybody could read [the news] and still believe what he is saying today.”
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images