He made the remarks during an interview with Sean Spicer, his former press secretary, on Newsmax TV.
“It depends. I don’t think we will have to,” he said.
The president said he personally would prefer to use the National Guard to respond to the riots instead.
“We have very strong powers to do it. The National Guard is customary and we have a very powerful National Guard over 300,000 men and women, and we can do pretty much whatever we want,” he said.
Trump praised the National Guard for their work in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis in protecting law and order.
He singled out New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio decided not to call in the National Guard. The city has been damaged by widespread rioting. Trump called the situation in the city a “disaster.”
Earlier in the week, Trump had urged city mayors to call in the National Guard to help: “We can help them a lot. They have to ask.”
But he added, “If they don’t get it straightened out soon, I will take care of it.”
Trump’s statement on his preferred response to the rioting nationwide comes after his announcement on Monday that he was dispatching “heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers” to contain the riots.
The Pentagon moved about 1,600 troops into the Washington area after Trump’s announcement about troop moblization.
The movement was described by Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman as “a prudent planning measure in response to ongoing support to civil authorities operations.”
“Active duty elements are postured on military bases in the National Capitol Region but are not in Washington, D.C. They are on heightened alert status but remain under Title X authority and are not participating in defense support to civil authority operations,” Hoffman said in a statement.
However, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday that he didn’t support deploying the military without first fully utilizing the National Guard to support civil authorities.
Esper said the federal government should not invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 that allows the president to deploy U.S. military and federalized National Guard troops within the United States in some instances.
“I’ve always believed and continue to believe that the National Guard is best suited for performing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations, in support of local law enforcement. I say this not only as secretary of defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard,” he told the reporters.
He insisted that usage of military personnel should be the last resort in “most urgent and dire of situations.”
“We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” he stated.
The death of Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest last week, has caused national uproar. But the initially peaceful protests, expressing grief and anger over police brutality, have in many cases been marred by looting, violence, and arson.
Protests continued for days in dozens of cities around the nation, including Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Detroit, and Louisville, with occasional looting, arson, and vandalism.
According to a Minneapolis Fire Department report (pdf), Floyd was unresponsive and “pulseless” when he was transported into an ambulance by paramedics from the site of his arrest to the hospital.
The police officer who was kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, was fired on May 25, along with three other arresting officers.
Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder and the three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting his murder.