WASHINGTON >> Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said today she endorsed scathing criticism of President Donald Trump’s leadership by James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, and was grappling with whether to support the president in the coming election.
Murkowski said the critique by Mattis, in which he said that Trump had divided the nation and failed to lead amid growing protests across the country, was “necessary and overdue,” and might prod other Republicans to go public with their private concerns about the president.
“I was really thankful,” she told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I thought General Mattis’ words were true and honest and necessary and overdue.”
The comments by Murkowski, one of the few Republicans in Congress who has been willing to break with the president on occasion, suggested that Trump’s response to nationwide unrest over police brutality and racial discrimination had emboldened at least some members of his party to speak out against him. While many Republicans privately regard the president’s conduct with distaste and even alarm, few have been willing to publicly air those concerns.
More have been willing to voice their differences in recent days, with a pandemic raging and protests exposing a sense of anguish about the treatment of black Americans.
Trump drew a rare bipartisan rebuke this week after he threatened to unleash the military to crack down on protests, just as the police were using chemical agents and flash bangs against demonstrators outside the White House to clear a path for him to pose outside a church. A handful of Republicans, including the party’s lone black senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, denounced the episode.
Murkowski said she had been “encouraged” by a lengthy statement issued on Tuesday by President George W. Bush, who did not mention Trump but expressed solidarity with demonstrators and warned against trying to suppress the protests. When she saw Mattis’ comments, Murkowski added, “I felt like perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally, and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up.”
She said she was “working as one individual to form the right words.”
Asked whether she could still support Trump in the election in November, Murkowski said: “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.”
Murkowksi, who was elected to her third full term in 2016, did not endorse Trump that year, and after a recording surfaced of him boasting about sexually assaulting women, she publicly repudiated his candidacy, saying that he had “forfeited the right to be our party’s nominee.”
Still, Murkowski has usually tempered her public criticism of the president, as have many other Republicans.
Today, several Republican senators continued to do so, with some insisting they had not seen Mattis’ remarks or otherwise deflecting questions about them. Those who challenged Trump did so gently or obliquely.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, another frequent critic of Trump, stopped short of commenting on the substance of Mattis’ critique but praised him effusively, leaving little doubt where he stood.
“He’s an American patriot,” Romney said of the former defense secretary. “He’s an individual whose judgment I respect, and I think the world of him.”
Still others rejected outright the criticisms of Trump. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close ally of the president, said that Mattis had been taken in by a “liberal media” that was bent on blaming Trump for everything.
Later today, Murkowski diverted momentarily from a speech about the anniversary of women securing the right vote to talk about the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died when a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, and the protests that his death helped inspire.
“I have been chastised by some very close friends, who have said, ‘You’re silent, Lisa. Why are you silent?’” she said. “And I have struggled. I have struggled with the right words, as a white woman born and raised in Alaska with a family that was privileged.”
She did not mention Trump.