As the Oregon State Police assumed guard duty at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, President Donald Trump warned that a federal withdrawal from downtown Portland was conditional.
In a White House press conference, Trump warned that state troopers had 48 hours to prove they could prevent protesters from defacing the federal courthouse or he would deploy the National Guard to crack down even more harshly than a Department of Homeland Security task force already has.
"So they're working today and probably tomorrow to clean out this beehive of terrorists," Trump said, referring to OSP. "And if they do it, I'm going to be very happy. And then, slowly, we can start to leave the city. If they don't do it, we'll be sending in the National Guard."
The deadline was a new development in the delicate negotiations to withdraw federal agents from a city where they are roundly despised. It arrived one day after Gov. Kate Brown announced she had struck a deal with Vice President Mike Pence for federal withdrawal.
But today, the president struck a familiar note, decrying "professional anarchists" in Portland. That false characterization of Portland protesters has been a hallmark of Trump's rhetoric since he deployed federal officers here in an election year bid to look tough on crime and highlight civil unrest in left-leaning cities.
His effort has mostly resulted in increased public rancor, nightly use of munitions and tear gas by federal police, and a string of lawsuits. And his description of protesters does not match what's been observed by reporters on the ground.
Brown did not respond publicly to Trump. About 30 minutes before the president's remarks, she tweeted a picture of a dog.
The governor's office referred WW to a statement Brown released Thursday morning. "I think we've had enough political grandstanding from D.C.," she said. "The president's plan to 'dominate' the streets of American cities has failed. And today, federal troops are preparing to leave downtown Portland. We will protect free speech and the right to protest peacefully."
Trump appeared stung by that statement in his press conference Thursday afternoon. "What she reported was totally different [from reality]," he said. "She said, 'I think Trump wants to take over the country.' It's crazy."
Here are Trump's full remarks on Portland today:
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Yesterday, DHS came to an agreement with the governor of Oregon to remove federal officers, and Oregon state troopers took over. Mayor Ted Wheeler was noticeably absent from that agreement. Are you confident, sir, that the state of Oregon will be able to quell the protests in Portland? And if the violence does continue, would you consider redeploying federal troops?
THE PRESIDENT: So our people have done — Homeland Security have done a fantastic job. They went to Oregon a little more than a week ago. The place was a mess. The city, Portland, was just a disaster. You see it, and a lot of people weren't reporting it right. They tried to pretend it was a protest, as opposed to anarchists and agitators. You understand what I'm saying. It's a mess.
They went there a short while ago, and they saved a federal courthouse that costs hundreds of millions of dollars. And they put a ring around the courthouse and they saved it. But the group that's there is basically meant to save buildings, and they were very strong, very powerful. And they didn't come out too often out of this cocoon that they built in order to save these very expensive, valuable, and psychologically important buildings — right? — like courthouses.
The governor and the mayor, we've been dealing with them, and we think they don't know what they're doing, because this should not have been going on for 60 days. It's not our job unless, in case of emergency — which I consider now to be an emergency — it's not our job to go in and clean out the cities. That's supposed to be done by local law enforcement.
Yesterday, the governor worked a deal where they'll do it; we'll stand by, they'll do it — and that's good. That was very good, but she didn't report it that way. What she reported was totally different. She said, "I think Trump wants to take over the country." It's crazy.
So what happened is our people are staying there to see whether or not they can do it today and tomorrow. And if they don't do it, we will send in the National Guard and we'll take care of it. And we're telling, right now, these protesters — and many should be arrested because these are professional agitators, these are professional anarchists; these are people that hate our country. We're telling them, right now, that we're coming in very soon — the National Guard. A lot of people. A lot of very tough people. And these are not people that just have to guard the courthouse and save it. These are people that are allowed to go forward and do what they have to do. And I think that makes the governor's job and the mayor's job a lot easier.
So they're working today and probably tomorrow to clean out this beehive of — of terrorists. And if they do it, I'm going to be very happy. And then, slowly, we can start to leave the city. If they don't do it, we'll be sending in the National Guard.