President Donald Trump can usually count on Republican members of Congress to universally defend his actions, or at least not condemn them. And as protests continue across the country over the death of George Floyd in police custody, cracks are emerging in this normally loyal contingency.
For the most part, Republicans have either supported the president’s response or sidestepped the question but there are a few notable exceptions when it comes to Monday night’s protest in Lafayette Park and the removal of protesters using force ahead of Trump’s walk to St. John’s church.
Several GOP senators criticized the president’s decision to visit the historic church across the street from the White House and pose for a picture with the Bible. As protesters were forcibly cleared from the area, Trump announced from the White House Rose Garden that he would mobilize the military if governors don’t “dominate the streets” and activate the National Guard to stop violent protests.
“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others’ property and no right to throw rocks at police. But there is a fundamental – a Constitutional – right to protest and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop,” Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said in a Tuesday statement.
Photos: Floyd Protests Across U.S., World
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the Senate, described the scene at Lafayette Park and the church photo op on Monday night in blunt terms.
“If your question is, ‘Should you use tear gas to clear a path so the president can go have a photo op?’ the answer is no,” Scott said at a Politico event Tuesday morning.
But many Republicans dodged answering questions about Trump’s church photo op and his threat to deploy active duty military forces in response to widespread protests that have emerged around the country. As Republicans walked over to attend Tuesday’s conference policy lunch, a number of GOP senators didn’t respond to questions from MSNBC host Kasie Hunt about whether Trump threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act is an abuse of power.
Others defended the president’s actions and decision to use the military in order to thwart violent protesting, looting and property destruction. And some questioned whether the protests in front of the White House on Monday evening were peaceful, arguing the use of force was justified.
“Violent anarchists and insurrectionists were once again allowed to rule the streets last night in too many cities. In places like St. Louis, they responded by shooting, beating, and running over police officers who weren’t given the support they deserve to restore order. In Las Vegas, an officer was shot in the head. The only way to end this insurrection is the overwhelming display of force,” Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said in a Tuesday statement.