Biden: Trump sees Wisconsin unrest as ‘political benefit’

Jacob Blake protests in Kenosha, Wis.

Police in riot gear clear a park during protests outside the Kenosha County Courthouse late Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Joe Biden said Thursday that President Donald Trump is “rooting for more violence” amid racially charged unrest in Wisconsin, and that he’d be willing to visit the state himself to try and defuse tensions.

“He views this as a political benefit,” the Democratic presidential nominee said of Trump on MSNBC hours before the president will address the final night of the Republican National Convention. “He’s rooting for more violence, not less. And it’s clear about that.”

Later on CNN, Biden repeated that assertion, saying: “These guys are rooting for violence. That’s what it’s all about.”

Biden was referring to ongoing protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times Sunday by police. A 17-year-old gunman has been arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of two protesters in clashes between vigilante militias and protesters.

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His running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, called Blake’s killing “sickening to watch” and “all too familiar” as she began a major speech Thursday billed as a criticism of Trump’s failure of leadership on the coronavirus.

“It’s no wonder people are taking to the streets — and I support them,” she said. “Make no mistake: We will not let these vigilantes and extremists derail the path to justice.”

On both networks, Biden cited comments made earlier Thursday by White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who suggested on “Fox & Friends” that the Wisconsin unrest could help Trump’s reelection chances.

“The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns,” Conway said “the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”

Conway later expanded the thought to Hurricane Laura’s destruction in telling reporters at the White House that she doesn’t “look at the hurricanes or what’s happening in Kenosha as political. I look at it as a matter of safety and safety.” Still, Biden seized on her original comment, asking when someone speaking behalf of a president “ever said something like that? Ever?”

He told CNN that cheering violence was an attempt by Trump to distract voters’ attention from the coronavirus pandemic continuing to ravage the country and an economy in free fall, saying, “It takes everybody’s eye off the ball.” He added, ”using division and hate is the only way he stays in office.”

Until Thursday, Biden and Harris had remained mostly silent through the GOP convention’s first days. Biden’s interview marked his most public comments this week, while Harris delivered a speech from Washington on Thursday excoriating Trump for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout.

She blasted Republicans for failing to paint a true picture of the virus’s toll during their convention.

“The Republican convention is designed for one purpose: to soothe Donald Trump’s ego, to make him feel good,” she said.

Republicans have tried to use their convention to tie the Democratic ticket to the protests — which have included some looting and violence — and have erroneously said Biden supports defunding police departments around the country. Biden doesn’t hold that position, but has advocated for overhauling U.S. police practices after years of high-profile killings of Black Americans by officers. Harris sponsored a bill in Congress to ban certain police practices like chokeholds and no-knock warrants and create a national registry for police misconduct, among other reforms.

Biden has largely limited travel to near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, during the pandemic. But he told MSNBC he’d consider traveling to Kenosha himself, while adding, “I don’t want to become part of the problem and I want to make sure it’s able to be done safely and we bring some competence.”

“If I were president I’d be going,” Biden said. “But it’s hard to tell now what the circumstance on the ground is.”

Should he make the trip, Biden said, he would attempt to “pull together the Black community as well as the white community and sit down and talk about how we get through this.”

As protests over institutional racism and police brutality have swept the country for months, Biden also said that he opposes violence in Wisconsin or anywhere else: “I don’t think that’s what Kenosha’s about,” he said on MSNBC. “I don’t think that’s what Black and white America’s about.”

But also he said of Trump, “He just keeps pouring fuel on the fire. He’s encouraging this. He’s not diminishing this at all.”

“This is his America now,” Biden said, “And, if you want to end where we are now, we’ve got to end his tenure as president.”

Associated Press Writers Darlene Superville in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report. Ronayne reported from Sacramento, Calif.

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