Senate Republicans keep mostly quiet on Trump's comments on George Floyd protests

Trump's tweets, comments were criticized by Democrats and some community leaders

June 1, 2020, 10:05 PM

Shortly after several truckloads of D.C. National Guard troops arrived near Lafayette Park, where large groups of protesters had fought with police for the past three nights, President Donald Trump addressed the nation in the Rose Garden, calling for a military show of force against those who are violently protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

"As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property," Trump said Monday. "We will end it now."

Just as the president concluded his commentary in the Rose Garden on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted a video clip of his earlier floor speech.

"I have fought for civil rights and the First Amendment. I completely support Americans' rights to peaceably protest and be heard," McConnell tweeted. "Our nation cannot deafen itself to the anger, pain, or frustration of black Americans. Our nation needs to hear this."

During McConnell's speech on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, he strongly condemned the violence that led to Floyd's death before addressing protesters and saying he hoped that the federal government is prepared to "stand in the breach" if state and local authorities are unable to subdue demonstrators.

"I hope state and local authorities will work quickly to crack down on outside agitators and domestic terrorists and restore some order to our cities," McConnell said. "And if state and local leaders cannot or will not secure the peace and protect citizens and their property I hope the federal government is ready to stand in the breach."

It is unclear if McConnell was suggesting sending in the military to back up officers. A McConnell aid declined to elaborate when asked for more information about the comment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to the press after a meeting with Republican Senators in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, May 19, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

But absent in McConnell's remarks was any commentary on the president himself. He has not spoken on the nature of Trump's tweets or his public remarks surrounding Floyd's death and the ensuing protests, marking a pattern among his Republican colleagues of commenting on the protests, but not on the president's rhetoric.

Senate Republicans including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have also condemned violence perpetrated by the protesters without mentioning any of the statements made by the president.

Over the weekend, Trump's tweets and comments were increasingly criticized by Democrats and some community leaders who have said Trump's response to the protests, which are occurring in cities across the country, has been damaging and lead to further unrest.

On Friday, Trump tweeted calling protesters "THUGS" and wrote that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," appearing to suggest violence against the demonstrators. The tweet was labeled by Twitter as "glorifying violence."

Trump later said his comments had been misconstrued.

"Frankly it means when there's looting, people get shot and they die," he said.

In the days since, Trump tweeted that if protesters breached the White House fence they would be greeted by "vicious dogs" and "ominous weapons."

Perhaps the most direct Republican response to Trump's comments came Sunday from Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who on Monday night, following the president's remarks in the Rose Garden, said he supported the president's statement.

"We need to hear more like that from the president because frankly, the country rallies around our chief executive when he speaks about bringing the American family together," Scott said. "So, I thought what he said in the Rose Garden was important, it was powerful, and it was necessary."

On Sunday, Scott told Fox News' Chris Wallace that the president's tweets were "not productive" and said that he spoke with Trump and discussed "constructive ways to have a dialogue with the nation."

Scott is the only black Republican serving in the U.S. Senate. This is not the first time he's spoken to Trump following a moment of racial tension in the country, the two also spoke after protests of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville lead to 28 injuries and one death in 2017.

Sen. Tim Scott speaks during a Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on new coronavirus tests on Capitol Hill May 7, 2020 in Washington DC.
Andrew Harnik/Pool/Getty Images

Scott was one of the first Republicans to comment on Floyd's death, tweeting last week that he believed the Minneapolis police officer involved should be arrested.

One of a few other Republican voices to be critical of Trump's tweets was Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who told reporters that Trump's message could be tweaked.

"I do think some of his tweets have not been helpful, and it would be helpful if he would change the tone of his message," Tooomey said.

And Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, tweeted about Trump's tweets on Saturday.

"What happened to George Floyd is absolutely tragic and we should all demand that those responsible be held accountable so that justice is served. While we are justifiably outraged over Mr. Floyd's death, burning and looting stores and homes is not the answer," Murkowski tweeted. "Nor is the suggestion of further violence. All of us – from local residents and authorities to the President – need to focus on de-escalating the situation in Minneapolis and tackling the issues peaceful protestors are demonstrating about across this country."

Perhaps the most notably quiet voice on Trump's language is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to members of the press after the weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon at Hart Senate Office Building May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Monday morning, Graham tweeted in defense of the use of force to subdue protesters who have turned violent.

"I am confident those responsible for Mr. Floyd's murder will be brought to justice through the Rule of Law," Graham tweeted. "However, it is now time to bring the Rule of Law to bear on the rioters and agitators who are destroying communities and corrupting the tragedy of Mr. Floyd's murder. The lawlessness we see on the streets is not the answer and I fully support the use of federal forces, if necessary, to restore order."

ABC News reached out to Graham's office on Friday to ask if the senator had any response to Trump's controversial tweet, which was labeled by Twitter as "glorifying violence," but did not receive a response.

In the past, Graham has defended the president for other remarks that have been criticized as being racially insensitive.

In 2019, in the throws of an impeachment investigation, Trump tweeted likening his treatment to that of a "lynching." While the tweet received push back from a number of Senate Republicans, including Scott and McConnell, Graham came to the president's defense.

"This is a lynching in every sense," Graham said in October. "This is un-American."

Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced Friday that his committee will hold a hearing on police brutality.

"We intend to shine a bright light on the problems associated with Mr. Floyd's death, with the goal of finding a better way forward for our nation," the statement says.

Despite Graham's silence on this matter, he did speak out about another racially divisive matter in May by former Vice President Joe Biden.

During an event last month, Biden was met with criticism for telling black voters "you ain't black" if they voted for Trump.

Sen. Graham tweeted that the comment was "truly offensive." Scott, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also criticized Biden for the remark, which he has since apologized for.

Cruz has also not spoken directly to Trump's tweets, instead criticizing Twitter for placing warning labels on the tweets alongside Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

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