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Mills Clashes With Trump Over His Call To 'Dominate' Protestors And His Plans To Visit Maine

Nick Woodward
Maine Public
Gov. Janet Mills at a Maine CDC briefing on the coronavirus on March 27, 2020, in Augusta.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Monday told President Donald Trump that his planned visit to a factory in Guilford later this week could provoke additional unrest and become a security concern for the state.

The governor’s remarks came during a widely publicized conference call between the president and the nation’s governors. In that call, a copy of which was obtained and published by several national news outlets, Trump berated the governors as weak in their response to protests ignited by the killing of George Floyd, who last week died in the custody of the Minneapolis police.

Trump told governors to mass-arrest protesters “for long periods of time” or risk appearing like “a bunch of jerks.” He also urged governors to enact laws outlawing the burning of the American flag, an act the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989 deemed constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.

Trump also implored governors to use the National Guard to suppress protests that have rocked several large cities.

“You have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks. You have to arrest and try people,” he said. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time — they’re going to run over you.”

During the call, Mills, a Democrat, questioned U.S. Attorney General William Barr about his vow to prosecute protesters under federal laws. She also requested intelligence to back up the Trump administration’s claims that violence during some of the protests had been perpetrated by a network of domestic terrorists.

Later in the call, Mills addressed the president directly, bringing up public reports of his planned visit to Puritan Medical Products Co., the Guilford company making specialized testing swabs used to administer COVID-19 tests.

“I’m very concerned your presence may cause some security problems for our state,” Mills told Trump.

Trump initially told Mills “we’ll look into that,” before saying he expected a “tremendous” crowd.

“They like their president,” he said.

Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, an avid supporter of the president, interjected, telling Trump he was welcome in his state.

The president then directed a remark at Mills to express his defiance.

“She tried to talk me out of it. Now, I think she probably talked me into it,” he said of his planned trip to Maine. “She just doesn’t understand me very well.”

That testy exchange was but one during a conference call that lasted more than an hour. The president repeatedly upbraided the governors over their response to the protests.

“It’s a movement, if you don’t put it down it will get worse and worse,” he said. “The only time it’s successful is when you’re weak and most of you are weak.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, criticized the president’s “inflammatory” language during the unrest.

“The rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House is making it worse,” he said.

“I don’t like your rhetoric much either,” Trump said to Pritzker.

Tensions between Mills and the Trump administration have escalated in recent weeks as Maine attempts to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. While the state has lower case numbers and deaths than many of its New England counterparts, the Mills administration has challenged the White House to provide more personal protective equipment for health care workers and testing supplies.

In May, the president weighed in when state officials yanked the health and liquor license of Rick Savage, owner of the Sunday River Brewing Co. Savage, who shared the governor’s cellphone number during a segment with Fox News personality and Trump ally Tucker Carlson, defied the governor’s operating restrictions on restaurants that were designed to limit spread of COVID-19 by opening his restaurant.

Trump joined the fray via Twitter, tweeting that he heard “many complaints” about Maine’s handling of the pandemic and noting that he won a single electoral vote from the state’s 2nd Congressional District during the 2016 presidential election.

Last week, Mills blasted Barr in a prepared statement after the Department of Justice submitted a late filing siding with a pair of campground and restaurant owners who sued the governor over a 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors.

In her statement, Mills said she was “disgusted” by the DOJ’s intervention.

“It seems to me that their only actual ‘interest’ here is, at best, political or, at worst, to harm Mainers, not defend them,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker, who was appointed by Trump, dismissed the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction, upholding the governor’s quarantine order.

Mills, the first woman elected governor of Maine, has largely steered clear of engaging the Trump administration publicly. However, she had a spate of conflicts with former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican whose penchant for controversy and legal disputes often put him at odds with the Maine Office of Attorney General, which Mills led for all but two of LePage’s eight years in office.

LePage has repeatedly threatened to challenge Mills in 2022, even before he left office in 2019. He relocated to Florida shortly thereafter but has reportedly returned to Maine for the summer. He recently attended a protest against Mills for her COVID-19 response, addressing the crowd over a makeshift public address system while he sat inside of his Lexus.

Mills plans to address the White House call in a press conference at the Blaine House in Augusta at 5 p.m. Monday.

Originally published June 2, 2020 at 3:48 p.m. ET.