WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump silently honored the nation’s war dead Monday in a wreath ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, first in a pair of public events also taking him to Baltimore.
Presidents on Memorial Day typically honor fallen military members by laying a wreath and delivering a speech at the hallowed burial ground in Virginia. But because of the pandemic, which is expected to claim its 100,000th American this week, the ceremony looked different this year.
Attendees at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier arrived wearing masks and removed them for the ceremony in the well-spaced crowd. Trump, maskless as always in public, gave no remarks this time. He approached a wreath already in place, touching it.
He was expected to speak at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. It’s where a poem, written after a huge American flag was hoisted to celebrate an important victory over the British during the War of 1812, became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young objected to Trump’s visit, saying it sends the wrong message about stay-at-home directives and the city cannot afford the added cost of hosting him when it is losing $20 million a month because of the pandemic.
But Trump is intent on accelerating his schedule as he portrays the country as returning to its pre-pandemic ways. The U.S. leads the world with more than 1.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 97,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
This month, Trump has toured factories in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan that make pandemic supplies. He planned to be in Florida on Wednesday to watch two NASA astronauts rocket into space, and he played golf at his private club in Virginia on Saturday and Sunday.
Young, a Democrat, last week cited the disproportionate effect the virus has had on his city and called on Trump to “set a positive example” by not traveling during the holiday weekend. “That President Trump is deciding to pursue nonessential travel sends the wrong message to our residents,” he said.
The White House sounded unmoved.
“The brave men and women who have preserved our freedoms for generations did not stay home and the president will not either as he honors their sacrifice by visiting such a historic landmark in our nation’s history,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an emailed statement Sunday.
Trump last summer described a congressional district that includes Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” He visited Baltimore months later to address a meeting of congressional Republicans, and a giant inflatable rat adorned with Trump-style hair and a red necktie taunted him from a few blocks away. Trump did not visit any Baltimore neighborhoods.
He was visiting on Monday just over a week after Maryland began to lift some of the restrictions it had put in place for the coronavirus, though they remain in effect in Baltimore. Baltimore and the Washington area have the nation’s highest percentages of positive cases, according to Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force.