WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump was unfamiliar with the significance of June 19 when his campaign scheduled a rally for that date in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but rescheduled the event when he learned the day know as Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the U.S., according to Sen. Tim Scott.
"I'm thankful that he moved it," Scott – the only African-American Republican in the Senate and one of only three Black senators in total – said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "The president moving the date by a day once he was informed on what Juneteenth was, that was a good decision on his part."
Coupled with the significance of the date, the choice of Tulsa – where a white mob killed hundreds in 1921 as it burned and looted an affluent Black neighborhood – was decried by many as racially insensitive amid nationwide protests against discrimination.
Scott was asked to clarify if he meant Trump, White House staff and the president's campaign team were all unaware of the historical connotations of Juneteenth and the Tulsa riots.
"My understanding is he moved the date once he understood the Juneteenth," the South Carolina Republican replied. "I'm not sure that the planners on his inner-circle team thought about June 19th, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and race riots. Unless you're doing a historical check, you probably don't get those dots connected."
Scott said it was important to have a diverse staff to avoid such "pitfalls." He noted that some of his former staffers now work for Trump, and he said they may have "helped to inform and educate the president on why Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 19th was not the best day to do it on it."
In 2018, Scott told CNN he did not think Trump is a racist, but said "without question" he could be racially insensitive. On Sunday, he pointed to Trump's speech Saturday at the West Point commencement, where the president spoke of the "evil of slavery" and "terrible injustice of segregation," as examples of what Scott hoped would be the "path forward" for Trump in talking about race.
"If we hear more of that, our nation will turn its head and listen a little closer to what the president says on issues of race," Scott said. "That is the path forward for this nation. It's finding the common ground and those institutions that bring us together. Without that, we may be looking at worse outcomes, not better outcomes, in the next few months."
Scott told NBC News on Sunday the thought Juneteenth should be a federal holiday in order to educate people about its importance. He said he was talking to the White House about the possibility.
"If there was a national holiday," he told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, "we would all know about Juneteenth. We'd all have an opportunity to celebrate it and frankly there would be fewer mistakes on that day."
In a Fox News interview on Friday, Trump said the choice of June 19 and Tulsa were not deliberate.
"Think about it as a celebration. Don't think about it as an inconvenience, " he said. "The fact that I'm having a rally on that day, you can really think about that very positively as a celebration.
"It an interesting date, it wasn't done for that reason, but it's an interesting date. But it's a celebration."
The next day, Trump announced on Twitter that he was moving the date of the rally to June 20 "in order to honor" the requests of "African American friends and supporters" who had asked him to consider changing it.
We had previously scheduled our#MAGA Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for June 19th – a big deal. Unfortunately, however, this would fall on the Juneteenth Holiday. Many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date out...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)June 13, 2020
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" he had advised Trump to move the date of the rally.
"His immediate response was, 'I don't want to do anything to be able to disrespect the black community,'" Lankord said. "He didn't see it as disrespectful to be able to do it on Juneteenth. Other people interpreted it differently. And so he moved the rally date."
In addition to accusations of racial insensitivity, critics have slammed the president for holding a massive indoor rally amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 115,000 people in the U.S.
Lankford defended the president's decision to hold the rally, noting that hospitalizations were down in Oklahoma, which has suffered 359 COVID-19-related deaths out of 8,231 confirmed cases. He said he intended to attend the event but was unsure whether he would wear a mask at the rally for the president, who has been reluctant to wear one in public.
"I wear a mask everywhere that I go currently, and have for weeks and weeks and weeks when I'm out at all here at Oklahoma," Lankford said. "And so I assume I'm going to have it. I'm trying to figure out the best way to be able to do this."