Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Friday defended his decision to violate social distancing guidelines — and his state’s own orders — by attending a Black Lives Matter protest in Harrisburg but admitted that it was “inconsistent” for him to do so, particularly after threatening business owners.
“That was inconsistent, I acknowledge that,” Wolf said during Friday’s press conference in response to a sharp critique from Pennsylvania Rep. Fred Keller (R-PA), who highlighted the hypocrisy of the governor:
Gov. Wolf said hardworking Pennsylvanians protesting for their right to earn a living were "cowardly." He threatened to withhold taxpayer funds from those who didn't social distance.
Today, he's literally walking arm-in-arm with protesters.
His hypocrisy knows no end. https://t.co/2bIPIPXZpR
— Congressman Fred Keller (@RepFredKeller) June 3, 2020
“But I was trying to show support for a cause, the eradication of racism that I think is very, very important and I was trying to show my support for that effort,” Wolf said, calling his participation in the demonstration featuring hundreds of people a “real gamble.”
The governor attended a Wednesday protest in the state’s capital, marching alongside protesters despite the fact that Dauphin County is in the yellow phase of reopening, restricting large gatherings of over 25:
I’m at today’s March Against Injustice and Gun Violence 2020 in Harrisburg in solidarity with our community.
Black lives matter. Racism must end. I am here to listen. pic.twitter.com/MoTYi7AtuW
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) June 3, 2020
Governor Wolf is walking with protestors in Harrisburg. I asked him what he and his administration will be doing outside of just marching in a Black Lives Matter protest. Hear his response today on @Fox43 at 4&5. pic.twitter.com/wrBiV86pfS
— Chelsea Koerbler (@ChelseaKoerbler) June 3, 2020
The governor has come under fire for being among the most obstinate of state leaders in terms of reopening the state following the shutdowns spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, even threatening business owners and county leaders amid rumblings of a “mutiny” forming in response to his far-reaching, restrictive orders.
“To those politicians who decide to cave in to this coronavirus, they need to understand the consequences of their cowardly act,” Wolf said last month, warning that such leaders “urging businesses to risk their lives and risk the lives of their customers or their employees by opening prematurely” were “engaging in behavior that is both selfish and unsafe.” He also threatened business owners with the loss of licenses.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine, born Richard Levine, also defended Wolf’s decision to participate in the protest, despite weeks of warnings to adhere to the lockdown orders and phased opening guidelines.
“The governor has always said that people have the right to protest and to demonstrate and the right of free speech,” Levine told reporters this week.
“And so overall, we want large gatherings — such as maybe a party or some type of concert — to be under 250 people. But we are not restricting people’s right to protest,” he continued:
This is why you have reporters at press conferences. Levine is asked about @GovernorTomWolf calling officials coward and then marching today in Harrisburg. Wait for the end. pic.twitter.com/6VkaYyMpwr
— Real_Dave_La_Torre 🍿 (@David_LaTorre) June 3, 2020
“There are obviously significant social issues, you know, that are present that people feel that they need to have a voice, and so the governor is always supportive of that and is participating in that,” Levine added.