President Trump told The Washington Times in an interview Thursday that he believes Joseph R. Biden is a weaker candidate than Hillary Clinton in 2016 but Democrats are more “desperate” to beat him, and he is counting on a strong economic recovery and a renewed push for conservatives on the Supreme Court to win reelection in November.
Asked how he assesses the race against Mr. Biden compared with Mrs. Clinton in 2016, the president said of his Democratic rival, “He’s weaker, but the machine is stronger because they’re desperate.”
Pointing to increased hiring and retail sales in May as states reopened from the coronavirus shutdowns, the president said the economy will be a “better platform” for him to win in November.
“We have four months until the election,” Mr. Trump said in the Oval Office interview. “We go [high and higher] each month. The third quarter is going to have the highest GDP in the history of mankind. And you see it is building. You don’t have to be up … where we were. I sort of think — but who knows, it’s like a horse race — I sort of think this is a better platform. We’ll find out.”
The weekly unemployment report Thursday revealed a higher-than-expected 1.5 million new jobless claims. It was the 11th straight week of decreasing claims, but the number was more than twice as high as the previous record from before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Continuing jobless claims were only slightly lower, 20.54 million, from 20.61 million a week earlier. At least 29 million people are collecting unemployment benefits.
Mr. Trump said of his opposition, “The Democrats don’t want to open. They are fighting like hell. They don’t want me to have the rally on Saturday. The rally is massive.”
The Trump campaign’s comeback rally will be held Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where some officials have expressed concern about the danger of spreading the coronavirus.
As for the president’s claim that Democrats are more “desperate” to beat him this year, a Fox News poll on Thursday backed him up. It showed that Mr. Biden has opened up a 50% to 38% lead over Mr. Trump among registered voters and that more than 6 in 10 of Mr. Biden’s backers said fear of another four years of Mr. Trump was motivating their support for the former vice president. That is compared with 31% who cited their enthusiasm for the Democrat’s bid.
Mr. Trump said one of his chief concerns about the election is the push to allow more voting by mail.
“Mail-in voting is the only way I’m going to lose,” he said. “Because [Democrats] cheat and rob and steal. They don’t send [ballots] to certain areas, mostly Republican areas. There’s so much illegal voting.”
In the interview, the president also said:
⦁ He is preparing to issue a policy statement on protecting federal monuments such as the Jefferson Memorial from vandalism by protesters, who are “trying to take away your history, your culture.”
⦁ His renewed commitment to appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court, announced Thursday, is needed because of recent decisions going against the administration. “It’s almost as though we have a minority” on the court, he said.
⦁ He doesn’t regret appointing Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to the high court in 2017, even though the justice ruled against the administration this week on a landmark decision for LGBTQ rights. “I’m proud of them both,” said Mr. Trump, referring to his appointees, Justices Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.
The president won over many conservatives in 2016 with his promise to choose Supreme Court nominees from a list of candidates he released before the election. Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were on the list.
Mr. Trump announced on Twitter on Thursday that he will release a new list of conservative potential nominees on Sept. 1 for consideration in his second term. “I will guarantee to pick only from that list,” he told The Times.
He said of the impact of releasing his list in 2016, “I had no idea what a big deal it was. It was my idea. It was a good idea. So now I’m going to do an update.”
In the interview, the president called on Mr. Biden to tell voters about his own preferred nominees for the high court.
“One of the things that I think Biden has to do is put out his justices, he has to put out a list of justices,” Mr. Trump said.
With the president’s two appointees, the Supreme Court has a conservative 5-4 majority. But after recent decisions, including the LGBTQ employment discrimination case and Thursday’s ruling against the administration’s effort to revoke the DACA immigration program, the president said the court needs more conservatives.
“It’s gotten much worse,” he said of the rulings. “We’ve had six, seven cases now [lost]. This is no longer just like, you know, a couple of random decisions. I think it shows you how important the Supreme Court is. I thought, ‘Well, we got two justices,’ that would be it. That would be, ‘We’re off to the races.’ But we’re not. I mean, it’s almost as though we have a minority. We’re not off to the races. If the Democrats put in just one [justice], everything is gone.”
In the wake of protesters pulling down statues of Confederate generals, Christopher Columbus and other monuments nationwide, the president said he is planning to issue a “strong statement” about protecting federal monuments. He noted that the administration deployed National Guard troops to protect the Lincoln Memorial in Washington during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.
“Most of these kids don’t even know what they’re ripping down,” Mr. Trump said.
He noted that a statue of Mahatma Gandhi near the Indian Embassy in Washington was defaced in early June.
“Last week they call me, ‘Sir, we need soldiers, they’re ripping down Gandhi,’” he recalled. “Gandhi! All he wanted was peace.”
He said some protesters are “forgetting even about our heritage.”
“Some of these [statues] are works of art, as fine as anything you’ll see in Europe,” he said.
Asked about the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Russia counterintelligence probe of his campaign, the president again expressed his hope that charges will be brought. He also insisted his predecessor, Barack Obama, knew about the spying.
“We caught them,” Mr. Trump said from his chair behind the Resolute Desk. “We have information, and … might get more. And the man sitting in this seat knew everything.”
Mr. Trump said he hopes the truth is exposed by U.S. Attorney John Durham’s ongoing investigation.
“They should do what’s right,” he said. “Think of it. There was an attempted overthrow of the government of the United States and a duly elected president — and we caught them. If this were the other side doing this, 25 guys would right now be in jail for 50-year terms. But let’s see what happens.”
⦁ Charles Hurt, Christopher Dolan and Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.