Trump Tulsa rally: President wanted to ‘slow the testing down’

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President Donald Trump boasted of his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and again blamed China for spreading the virus.
Trump wrapped up his rally in Tulsa after a speech of 1 hour and 41 minutes in which he boasted of his administration’s response to the coronavirus and said he wanted to slow down testing for the disease.
Turnout at the rally was far less than expected.
The president’s campaign had said it expected to fill the 19,000 BOK Center and have an overflow crowd of thousands more. Instead, there were rows of empty seats on the upper levels of the arena and the Trump campaign ended up canceling plans for a speech to the overflow crowd, blaming the decision on protesters.
The decision to hold the rally had been highly controversial. Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in Oklahoma and public health experts said they worried the rally could become a “super spreader.” Most of the attendees at the rally were not wearing masks, nor were social distancing guidelines observed.
At a time when nationwide protests have erupted over police brutality,
Trump was criticized for initially scheduling the event for Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.
The campaign moved the rally to one day later. Trump has also faced a backlash for holding the rally in a city that was by many accounts home to one of the worst racial attacks in U.S. history.
—  Courtney Subramanian, Nicholas Wu and John Fritze
Addressing recent Supreme Court decisions on the DACA and LGBTQ rights that brought criticism from conservatives, Trump said it felt like the Supreme Court was almost like “a minority court.”
Touting his judicial appointees, a common campaign theme, Trump said if former Vice President Joe Biden were elected, “he will stack the court with extremists.”
Earlier in his rally, Trump praised his two Supreme Court appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.
“We have two justices of the Supreme Court – Justice Gorsuch Justice Kavanaugh – they’re great…we have two and we could get a few more.”
Some conservative justices had sided with the court’s liberal wing in the decisions this week. Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, which ruled that federal civil rights law allowed protections for LGBTQ workers.
— Nicholas Wu
TULSA, Okla. – President Donald Trump addressed recent demonstrations that have led to the removal of several Confederate statues around the country amid a national conversation on the country’s troubled history with race.
“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrating our monuments, our beautiful monuments, tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control, we’re not conforming,” he told the crowd.
Trump said there had been a new outbreak of protests in Washington, D.C. last night, denouncing the pulling down of a Confederate statue, which he called the destruction of a “beautiful piece of art.” The statue of General Albert Pike was pulled down by demonstrators and then lit on fire.
He added that part of the reason he held the rally in Oklahoma was to combat the “cruel campaign of censorship and exclusion.”
“They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose their new oppressive regime in its place. They want to defund and dissolve our police departments. Think of that,” he added.
Protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality have gripped the country, prompting calls to “defund the police.” Some protesters say the slogan means re-allocating police funding to other community resources, but Trump’s campaign has seized on the phrase as a threat to disband police forces by the radical left, including his Democratic challenger Joe Biden. The former vice president, however, has said he does not support the movement.
Addressing the nationwide protests where some demonstrators had burned the American flag, Trump said, “We ought to come up with legislation, that if you burn the American flag, you go to jail for one year.”
The 1989 Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson classified flag-burning as protected speech under the First Amendment.
— Courtney Subramanian and Nicholas Wu
Democrats and other critics on social media slammed President Donald Trump for using the term “kung flu” to describe coronaviurs during his rally on Saturday.
“Trump just completed the racism trifecta in a three-minute span,” the Democratic National Committee posted on Twitter, noting the use of the term alongside his use of the term “tough hombres” and his discussion of Confederate “heritage”
Administration officials had previously pushed back on reports that the term, which some find offensive, was being used at the White House. White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway described the term as “highly offense” this year.
In a riff on how many names he claimed the coronavirus has, Trump joked that one of the names is “Kung flu.”
“It’s a disease without question,” Trump told the audience. “I can name 19 different versions of names. Many call it a virus, which it is. Many call it a flu. What’s the difference?”
Public health officials have discouraged terms that associate a pandemic with a place. Trump frequently used “Chinese virus” in the early weeks of the pandemic but stopped using it as frequently.
“A lot of people suspect Trump is a racist. Today Trump used the term ‘kung flu’ to describe coronavirus to remove any doubt on the matter,” posted Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and frequent Trump critic.
George Takei, the actor who played Sulu on the original Star Trek television series, also criticized Trump for making jokes about a deadly disease.
“Trump is cracking jokes in Tulsa about Covid-19, calling it ‘kung flu’ which is not only racist but belittles the deaths of 122K Americans and the horrific loss for their families,” Takei, a frequent Trump critic, tweeted in response.
— John Fritze and David Jackson
Addressing the attention on his descent down a ramp at West Point, Trump told the rally the ramp was “like an ice skating rink.”
Trump said he told a general he was wearing “leather bottom shoes,” which were “not good for ramps.”
“No way I can make it down that ramp without falling on my ass,” Trump said he told the general. The stage was “higher than this one” in Oklahoma, he said.
Anti-Trump groups seized on the moment and released ads insinuating the president’s health was in decline.
— Nicholas Wu
President Donald Trump boasted of his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and again blamed China for spreading the virus.
Coronavirus cases have spiked in several states around the country, including in Oklahoma, the site of the rally. Local health officials had called for the rally to be postponed out of concern about the spread of the virus.
“COVID. To be specific, COVID-19. That name gets further and further away from China, as opposed to calling it the Chinese virus,” he said. “We – I – did a phenomenal job with it.”
Trump said he told his administration, “slow the testing down, please” reiterating his argument that higher test numbers led to higher case counts.
He imitated a doctor talking about a 10-year-old with “sniffles” who would conclude “that’s a case!”
The president said the governor of New Jersey told him only one person under the age of 18 died, which the president said shows that young people have a “great immune system
“Let’s open the schools please!” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the president’s coronaivrus task force, said earlier this week while more testing does result in more cases, the recent surge in some states “cannot be explained by increased testing.”
Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University, said delaying widespread testing resulted “in the needless deaths of thousands of Americans.”
“It took 51 days from the 1st positive US COVID patient to test the next 20,000. I’ve always suspected that the president slow-walked testing in the US. Now we know he did just that,” he tweeted. “The result is the needless deaths of thousands of Americans. He should resign.”
– Nicholas Wu and Courtney Subramanian
TULSA, Okla. – President Donald Trump, who often kicks off his campaign rallies by crowing about the size of the crowd, was forced to use his high stakes rally in Tulsa on Saturday to explain why turnout was less than expected.
Echoing a line from his campaign manager, Trump blamed the smaller than expected crowds at the BOK Center on media coverage leading up to the event. He blamed protesters for his decision to not deliver expected remarks at a scheduled outdoor overflow event.
“You are warriors,” Trump told the crowd, suggesting that they had turned out despite the coverage leading up to the rally. “I’ve been watching the fake news for weeks now. And everything is negative. Today it was like, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In explaining the decision to cancel the outdoor event, Trump said that “we had some very bad people outside they were doing bad things.”
Photos from the expected outdoor event showed that there was far small crowd sizes that had been expected. Trump said that more than a million people had expressed interest in the rally.
“We expect to have a…record setting crowd,” Trump said on Thursday during a meeting at the White House with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. “We’ve never had an empty seat. And we certainly won’t in Oklahoma.”
The campaign fell far short of selling out the 19,000-seat arena were empty.
Trump abandoned his usual early rally talking points about the crowd, ditching a favorite line in which he urges the television cameras set up in the center for the floor to show the crowd.
Vice President Mike Pence took the stage at the BOK Center just after doors closed at 6:30 p.m. local time. The arena, which holds an estimated 19,000 people, appeared roughly half full with several sections in the upper part of the arena left empty. Supporters in the bottom section packed in, standing shoulder to shoulder and cheering as Pence spoke.
“Four years ago a movement was born, and it looks like it’s doing just fine tonight.” Pence told the crowd as supporters erupted in cheers.
Campaign officials said earlier this week they received one million requests for tickets and constructed an overflow stage outside the arena to accommodate the anticipated crowds of hundreds of thousands.
But estimates instead appeared to be in the thousands as the outside portion began to empty as more rally-goers trickled into the stadium.
Three sections directly behind Pence were a little more than half full, the rest of the sections on the upper deck had no more than a few rows full per section.
President Donald Trump’s planned remarks on the outdoor stage were canceled after a campaign official said protesters blocked access to one of the security entrances. Footage shared online showed workers removing the outdoor stage as supporters inside awaited the president’s arrival.
— Courtney Subramanian and Nicholas Wu
At least two of the six people involved with planning President Donald Trump’s high-stakes campaign rally in Tulsa on Saturday who tested positive for coronavirus are members of the U.S. Secret Service, USA TODAY has learned.
Trump officials initially said six campaign “staff” tested positive for the virus but an official with knowledge of the matter speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed at least two of the six were Secret Service employees.
The revelation of the positive tests came hours before Trump was set to take the stage at the BOK Center for his first rally since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March. Public health officials have warned against the rally, which has brought thousands of people into the indoor arena.
Secret Service, White House and campaign staff often work closely together on presidential trips. The Trump campaign initially said those who tested positive were part of the advance team.
The Secret Service is not reimbursed by the campaign for presidential travel to political events.
Trump’s campaign said Saturday that quarantine procedures were implemented for those who tested positive and that neither those people nor anyone they came into contact with would take part in the event.
“Per safety protocols, campaign staff are tested for COVID-19 before events. Six members of the advance team tested positive out of hundreds of tests performed, and quarantine procedures were immediately implemented,” Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Trump’s campaign, said in a statement.
— Kevin Johnson, Nicholas Wu, John Fritze
President Donald Trump’s campaign canceled planned outdoor speeches before his rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh said the cancellation was because of protests outside.
“Protesters interfered with supporters, even blocking access to the metal detectors, which prevented people from entering the rally. Radical protesters, coupled with a relentless onslaught from the media, attempted to frighten off the President’s supporters,” Murtaugh said in a statement.
There had been some scuffles outside one of the entrances into the arena between a group of protesters and rally-goers. Law enforcement officers at the entrance escorted members of the press and rally-goers to the security checkpoint.
The campaign had set up an outdoor stage for supporters to hear from the president and prominent supporters. Earlier this week, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale boasted on Twitter about the overflow stage organizers constructed to accommodate the expected crowds. The campaign said it received one million requests for tickets.
“If you come to the rally and don’t get into the BOK Center before it’s full, you can still see the President in person!” he wrote.
– Nicholas Wu and Courtney Subramanian
As the Trump campaign has faced criticism for the scheduling of its Tulsa rally – and the president’s response to Black Lives Matter protests – Vice President Mike Pence told a group of Black pastors Saturday that there is “no excuse” for the death of George Floyd.
Pence, who will attend the rally at the BOK Center, took part in a meeting with Black pastors shortly after touching down in the city. Pence said he was there to listen to concerns following the death of Floyd, a Black man whose neck was pinned under the knee of a white police officer for nearly nine minutes.
“There is no excuse for what happened to George Floyd. There is no excuse to the rioting and looting and violence that ensued,” Pence told the group.
Trump’s rally was originally scheduled for Friday, or Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. The president said he moved the event after hearing from Black “friends and supporters.”
He later told the Wall Street Journal that “nobody had ever heard” of the Juneteenth holiday before the controversy.
Pence is facing his own blowback for declining to say the words “Black lives matter” during an interview with an ABC affiliate in Philadelphia on Friday. After Pence asserted that “all lives matter,” the interviewer pressed Pence on why he wouldn’t utter the words.
“Well, I don’t accept the fact, Brian, that there’s a segment of American society that disagrees in the preciousness and importance of every human life,” Pence said.
– John Fritze
President Donald Trump called the crowds gathering for his high stakes rally in Tulsa “unbelievable” as he departed the White House on Saturday, but didn’t respond to shouted questions about the six staffers on his campaign who have tested positive for coronavirus.
“The event in Oklahoma is unbelievable. The crowds are unbelievable,” Trump said, umbrella in hand, before boarding Marine One to begin his journey to Tulsa. “We’re going to see a lot of great people…and pretty much that’s it.”
Supporters have been gathering for days outside the 19,000-seat BOK Center for the rally, which marks Trump’s return to the campaign trail after a three-month hiatus because of the pandemic. Public health officials have raised concerns about the event, perhaps the largest indoor gathering in the U.S. since the virus hit.
Trump did not address reports that six staffers working to organize the rally had tested positive for the virus and are now in quarantine. The campaign has said those staffers will not attend the event.
“See you in Oklahoma,” he said.
– John Fritze
Six staffers working to organize President Donald Trump’s campaign rally here have tested positive for the coronavirus, a development that is likely to increase concerns about the safety of the massive and high-profile indoor event.
Trump’s campaign said Saturday that quarantine procedures were implemented for the staffers and that neither the aides nor anyone they came into contact with will take part in the event.
“Per safety protocols, campaign staff are tested for COVID-19 before events. Six members of the advance team tested positive out of hundreds of tests performed, and quarantine procedures were immediately implemented,” Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Trump’s campaign, said in a statement.
“No COVID-positive staffers or anyone in immediate contact will be at today’s rally or near attendees and elected officials,” the statement read. “As previously announced, all rally attendees are given temperature checks before going through security, at which point they are given wristbands, face masks and hand sanitizer.”
Public health officials have raised concerns for several days that the rally could become a “super spreader” event because it will involve thousands of people standing shoulder to shoulder inside an area, the BOK Center in Tulsa.
Trump campaign officials and the White House have dismissed those concerns, noting that masks would be distributed.
– Courtney Subramanian
More reading: Health experts fear Trump rally in Tulsa could be a coronavirus ‘super spreader’
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In a statement released Saturday afternoon, the Tulsa Police Department said it removed a protester from the area outside the BOK Center after the Trump campaign “requested” her removal from a secure area set up in the blocks around the arena.
The department said they tried to convince the protester to leave before being escorted away and arrested for “obstruction.”
The protester told reporters at the time she had a valid ticket for the event. The department said her ticket holder status was “not a contributing factor” in her arrest.
– Nicholas Wu
Hours before President Donald Trump’s much-anticipated rally here, supporters began trickling into line outside the BOK Center to join those who had camped overnight for a chance to get a choice spot inside the 19,000-seat arena.
The atmosphere was celebratory as some supporters – many of whom wore no mask –  brandished American and Trump campaign flags.
“We’ve never been to a rally before and we heard that the president is speaking inside and outside,” said Katie Williams, noting that Trump is expected to address an overflow crowd near the arena before hosting the rally. “That’s exciting.”
Trump is set to touch down Saturday evening for his first campaign rally since early March, before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. The rally, which Trump has said marks a restart of his struggling reelection effort, has drawn criticism from health officials who warn that gathering thousands of people indoors could spread the virus.
The rally is set to begin at 8 p.m. EDT.
Tulsa: A massive risk? Trump gambles with a rally that could shape his campaign
Tensions between rally attendees and protesters that caused Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum to declare a curfew earlier in the week had not materialized as of Friday afternoon. Bynum rescinded the curfew on Friday after speaking with Trump.
Trump is returning to the campaign trail as his support has slid in national and battleground polls amid the coronavirus, the economic impact of shutdown orders and racial divisions that have resurfaced following the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose neck was pinned to the ground under the knee of a white police officer.
One protester was arrested Saturday morning outside the BOK Center. The protester had entered a “secure zone” surrounding the arena established by law enforcement.  The woman told reporters she had a ticket for the event but was told by law enforcement that she was “trespassing and breaking the law.”
After enduring deluges and a short-lived curfew, Trump supporters said Saturday they are ready for the main event.
“It’s just fun. People from all different backgrounds are here and we’ve made so many friends,” said Oklahoma resident Laura Ashford. “I wanted to be here for Juneteenth just as much as I wanted to see Trump.”
About a mile and a half south of the rally, Tykebrean Cheshier, 21, was planning a “Rally Against Hate” at Veterans Park, an event she expects to attract up to 6,000 people including some who have indicated they will travel from St. Louis and Chicago.
Cheshier stressed that she did not consider the event a counter protest, though it is due to take place at the same time the president will deliver his remarks. She said it is deliberately being held in another part of the city.
“Our rally is to give people a way to still have a voice while he’s here,” she said. “People want a place where they can go safely.”
– Courtney Subramanian, Nicholas Wu and The Oklahoman
‘Insensitive and isolated’: Rev. Sharpton slams Trump at Tulsa Juneteenth celebration
President Donald Trump’s campaign has not yet provided Tulsa health officials with a plan for social distancing or mitigating the risk of coronavirus hours before the president is set to hold a high profile rally in Oklahoma, a city official said.
Leanne Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Tulsa Health Department, told USA TODAY that the department “has not received any such plan.”
Some local health officials have called for the rally to be canceled as coronavirus cases spike statewide, including in Tulsa. Officials with the BOK Center, which is hosting the event, sent a letter to the Trump campaign this week asking for a plan they could share with local health officials.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said during a Thursday press conference that the BOK Center is responsible for accepting the rally and coordinating with the Trump campaign.
The Trump campaign plans to administer temperature checks and distribute masks and hand sanitizer at the event, but will not mandate the wearing of masks.
Spokesman Guy Chipparoni said the BOK Center “did not hear back” from the Trump campaign about a plan for social distancing at the rally.
Chipparoni said Center employees would be instructing rally attendees to wear masks as they entered the building and for the duration of the event.
He said the Center would also encourage social distancing for the event with decals on the ground marking 6-foot distances in line for concessions and would put markings on the seats in the arena encouraging people to social distance as they sat down.
– Nicholas Wu
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