President Donald Trump sought to recognize New Haven Mayor Toni Harp Wednesday — then criticized her when it turned out she wasn’t in the room to receive the compliment.
Harp was among the mayors invited to a meeting with the president.
The president arrived to the gathering at 3:37 p.m. One hundred people were there.
“‘We have some really hardworking people in this room,’” Trump said.
He asked Pascagoula Mississippi Mayor Dane Maxwell to stand, and Maxwell did. He asked Fort Worth Texas Mayor Betsy Price to stand. She did.
Then he called on New Haven’s mayor.
But Harp didn’t stand up. Because she wasn’t there.
“Toni Harp,” Trump said. “Where’s Toni? Toni. Toni?
“Uh oh. Can’t be a sanctuary person, I know. That’s not possible, is it?
It was possible. And true. Along with other mayors, Harp was boycotting the meeting over the issue of sanctuary cities. (Watch the president’s remarks on a video from Politico below.)
Harp had already visited the White House that morning. She’s in Washington for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. The White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs invited some of the mayors in at 11 a.m. for a chat on opportunities to work together. The invitees included Harp and the chief executives of Birmingham, Alabama; Augusta, Georgia; and Columbia, S.C.
“While we were sitting there exchanging ideas,” Harp told the Independent later Wednesday, “we got a text saying the Justice Department had issued 23 subpoenas for sanctuary cities,” communities with immigrant-friendly policies that include not sharing information on nonviolent offenders with federal agents. The Trump administration has vowed to punish those cities by withholding other federal aid.
At the time, Harp said, she had no idea if New Haven was one of those cities receiving a subpoena. [No Connecticut cities were among the 23 jurisdictions receiving subpoenas.]
Some other mayors, including New York’s Bill DiBlasio, also boycotted the gathering over the administration’s sanctuary cities position.
“The mayors who choose to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal, illegal immigrants over law-abiding Americans,” the president went on to say after noting Harp’s absence. “But let me tell you, the vast majority of people showed up. …
“For 100 years, the Democratic mayors have a done a terrible — I mean, they’ve done some bad work.”
In speaking with the Independent, Harp questioned why the Trump administration would issue the subpoenas on the same day it was inviting mayors to the White House in the supposed interest of working together.
“I just felt,” she said, “like we were used.”
So, Harp said, she decided not to attend the 3 p.m. meeting with Trump after all.
“I thought it would be sending the wrong message to the people of New Haven” to attend, she said. “I didn’t even think that I’d be singled out.”
If she had in fact attended and stood up, she mused, “who the heck knows what he would have said?”
On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a statement in support of Harp: “It’s disturbing but not surprising that President Trump – just so he could spread dishonest and hateful rhetoric against immigrants – decided to attack a strong leader who stood up to his backwards policies. I am proud to stand with Mayor Harp. Unlike this president, she is a brilliant and thoughtful leader who stands for the values that make Connecticut strong. Our state will continue to push for diversity and inclusion, despite the president’s attempts to sow division and racial resentment.”
And the state Democratic Party used the encounter for a fundraising pitch. “Toni Harp made a commitment to New Haven that law-abiding people who live in our communities are citizens no matter where they came from,” it wrote in the appeal.