Susan Collins criticizes Trump’s treatment of protesters as ‘painful to watch’

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Tuesday called out President Trump for what she thought was his “unsympathetic” handling of peaceful protesters who were dispersed with tear gas on Monday evening so Trump could pose with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

She said it was “painful to watch” U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops fire tear gas and forcefully push through a large group of peaceful protesters to clear a way for Trump. The dispersed people were protesting the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, under police custody in Minneapolis last week.

Collins, who faces a competitive reelection race in a state where Trump is expected to lose the popular vote, said Trump’s actions were not what the country needs at a time of widespread racial tension and high unemployment, which have added to the anxiety surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“To me, at a time like this, the president ought to be trying to calm the nation, pledge to right historic wrongs and be a steady influence. I don’t think he was last night,” Collins told reporters when asked about the president’s controversial walk across H Street between Lafayette Square and St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been partially burned over the weekend by rioters.

“It was painful to watch peaceful protesters be subjected to tear gas in order for the president to go across the street to a church that I believe he’s attended only once,” she said.

“All of us are upset at the fire that was set at the church, an historic house of worship for many, many presidents, but I thought the president came across as unsympathetic and as insensitive to the rights of people to peacefully protest,” she added. 

Trump’s actions have received little comment or criticism from Senate Republicans on Tuesday.

Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) were two of only a few Republicans to call out Trump’s actions.

“I did not think that what we saw last night was the America I know,” Murkowski told reporters. 

Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only African American Republican senator, told Politico in an interview that Trump shouldn’t have forcibly cleared protesters in front of the church.

“Obviously, 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, according to media reports.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) on Tuesday said Trump needs to help diffuse tensions that are running high in cities across the nation.

“I hope he projects calm,” Thune said of the president. “I hope people act calmly.”

“There’s a lot going on in the country right now. There’s a lot of tumult and unrest, and we need to deal with it, though, in a way that I think is based on dialogue and respect and humility and not overreaction,” he added.

Asked if Trump is projecting calm now, Thune responded, “I hope so.”

“He has moments,” he added. “But, as you know, it lasts generally as long as the next tweet.”

Updated at 4:14 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump George Floyd protests John Thune Lisa Murkowski Maine senate elections Susan Collins Tim Scott

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