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Mayor Bowser questions Trump’s legal ability to call troops to DC

Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Thursday that she thinks “there is a legal question” about President Trump’s ability to call out-of-state National Guard into the District of Columbia. Bowser joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how the city has seen protests at the White House swell “ever since peaceful protesters were forcibly moved” and how she sees the federal government encroaching on D.C.’s autonomy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The nation's capital has been another site of large-scale protests.

    Washington, D.C.'s Mayor Muriel Bowser said today that she wants out-of-state National Guard troops out of the District of Columbia.

    And the mayor joins us now.

    Mayor Bowser, thank you very much for being here.

    We are — it's reported that people, protesters are gathering in the streets of Washington at this hour. This would be the seventh straight day of protests.

    You have opted not to call — impose a curfew, though. Why not?

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser:

    Judy, we are — we situationally review what our public safety needs are to manager protests, and we have seen over the last two nights very peaceful protests.

    In fact, we have seen the number of people coming down to demonstrate in front of the White House swell quite a bit, ever since peaceful protesters were forcibly moved out of the way by the federal police.

    So, people have come down to peaceably protest and police themselves in some ways. So, if they see somebody not there for a peaceful protest, bent on destruction, we have seen the crowd deal with them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you get some kind of advanced word from the organizers of these protests about what their intentions are? How do you get information, intelligence about what's going on?

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser:

    Well, sometimes.

    People who are — who organize frequently in Washington, D.C., will reach out to our Metropolitan Police Department or to our Homeland Security Department, and give us a heads-up.

    Other times, we are listening to intelligence, monitoring social media, so that we have a good gauge on how many people are coming and how many staff we need to manage traffic, close streets, and make sure people are safe.

    We think, this Saturday, we are going to have a larger crowd in D.C., and we will make some determinations about what we need in terms of staffing and if we need to reinstate our curfew on that day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Who has control, Mayor Bowser, of keeping the peace in Washington, D.C.? Is it the D.C. police, or is it the National Guard, some of the troops that have been — that have been come in from elsewhere?

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser:

    Well, you're highlighting the unique status of Washington, D.C. We are the capital city. We're a federal district. We're 700,000 federal — we're — excuse me — 700,000 taxpaying Americans.

    And I'm the mayor, governor, county executive all at once. But because we are not a state, the federal government can encroach on our autonomy and bring in federal forces to from protect federal assets. And that's what we see in D.C.

    I am the mayor. We have a police force of 4,000 men and women who protect D.C. every single day, who support First Amendment demonstrations. And the police chief and that force report to me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you were critical, Mayor, earlier this week, when President Trump or his administration ordered the clearing out of peaceful protesters around the White House, so that the president could walk over to St. John's Church, that scene where he had his photograph taken holding the Bible.

    And yet it is — the federal government does have control over that area, does it not?

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser:

    The federal government and everybody who works for it swears an oath to the Constitution of the United States that allows Americans to peaceably protest, to exercise their First Amendment rights.

    And what I witnessed, from what I could see, what I think the world could see, is that those people were peaceably protesting. And the specter of federal police or — you know, releasing munitions to clear the way, so the president could make a political statement, is abhorrent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And do you — I mean, are you getting a sense right now that the administration is going to hold back in some way its being prepared to deploy federal troops? Are you getting any sort of signal through your communication with the White House, with the Justice Department?

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser:

    Well, let me say this.

    We, first of all, think that there is a legal question about the president's ability to call in out-of-state National Guard into the District of Columbia, Guard that I have not requested, as mayor.

    And we have pushed back very hard on that. They need to deal with that question, and that we think there are some other steps that the president needs to take to do that. We don't know on whose authority that these troops are acting. And this is a similar question that was raised by the speaker of the House to the president in a letter today.

    What we know and has been announced by the secretary of the Army is that the active-duty military troops, Army personnel who were staged around Washington, D.C., are being sent back to their home base, to their home stations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And does that give you peace of mind? Are you confident they won't be called back again?

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser:

    I — we can't have peace of mind in Washington, D.C., until we have full autonomy and we're just like every other American and we become the 51st state.

    But you ask me if that makes me feel good, if that makes me feel secure. I don't think any American can feel secure if they watch the president of the United States move on American citizens with active-duty military troops.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser.

    Mayor Bowser, thank you very much.

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we would ask all of you to please join us Friday night, tomorrow night, for "Race Matters: America in Crisis," a "PBS NewsHour" prime-time special.

    At the end of this difficult week, we explore this anguished moment and how we move ahead.

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