WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump honored America’s fallen service members on Monday as he commemorated Memorial Day in back-to-back appearances in the midst of the pandemic.
“Together we will vanquish the virus and America will rise from this crisis to new and even greater heights," Trump said during a ceremony at Baltimore’s historic Fort McHenry. “No obstacle, no challenge and no threat is a match for the sheer determination of the American people.”
Earlier, Trump silently honored the nation’s war dead at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, which is currently closed to the public. Presidents on Memorial Day typically lay a wreath and deliver 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.
Many attendees arrived wearing masks but removed them for the outdoor ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Trump, maskless as always in public, gave no remarks. He approached a wreath already in place, touching it and giving a salute.
Trump then traveled to Baltimore, to the chagrin of the city's mayor, and noted that tens of thousands of service members and national guard personnel are currently “on the front lines of our war against this terrible virus.”
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.
Trump said brave warriors from the nation’s past have shown that “in America, we are the captains of our own fate.”
The Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is 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.” The fort is closed to the public because of the pandemic.
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. This month, Trump has toured factories in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan that make pandemic supplies. He plans 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.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in Arlington, Virginia, contributed to this report.