Breaking with party, Republican senator says Trump rebuke ‘necessary’

A Republican senator broke with her party Thursday to describe a former Pentagon chief’s searing rebuke of Donald Trump as “necessary and overdue,” and said she was struggling with whether to support the US president’s re-election.

Lisa Murkowski’s comments marked a major break with Trump within the Republican camp, which has largely held together through various crises including his impeachment process and the president’s current threat to use military force against protesters.

For days, demonstrators have flooded streets in cities across the United States demanding racial justice — in protests both peaceful and violent — since videos of the killing of a black man by Minneapolis police went viral.

Murkowski was referring to the extraordinary statement Wednesday by Trump’s former defense secretary Jim Mattis who accused the president of trying to “divide” Americans and failing to provide “mature leadership” as the country reels from days of protests.

Mattis, who resigned in 2018 over Trump’s ordering of a troop withdrawal from Syria, slammed the use of force to clear peaceful protesters from near the White House on Monday so that Trump could pose for photographs at a nearby church, calling it an “abuse of executive authority.”

“I thought General Mattis’s words were true and honest and necessary and overdue,” Murkowski told reporters at the US Capitol.

“I felt like perhaps we are getting to a 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.”

Asked if she would support Trump in November’s election, the Alaska Republican responded: “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.”

Trump responded swiftly, saying he would travel to Alaska to campaign against Murkowski, now in her third full Senate term, in 2022 if she runs for re-election then.

“Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care,” Trump tweeted. “I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!”

Senator Mitt Romney, one of the more consistent vocal Trump critics within the GOP, and the only Republican to vote to convict Trump in his February impeachment trial, reportedly described Mattis’s statement as “very powerful.”

But he and Murkowski appear to be Republican outliers, as the party has largely declined to embrace the Mattis view that Trump is a threat to the US Constitution.

“That’s not the way I would describe what is a very difficult time in our country,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio said, according to Politico. “But I have great respect for General Mattis.”

Several Republicans over the years have praised Mattis for his leadership, even describing him as a steadying force in a turbulent Trump administration.

Among them was Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who also implicitly criticized Trump’s handling of the protests.

“The question is tone and words, and I think some of the tones and some of the words used should be focused more on healing and less on dividing,” Politico quoted Portman as saying.