Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session
GOP Sen. Murkowski 'struggling' with whether to vote for Trump
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Thursday praised former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's scathing rebuke of President Trump as "true and honest and necessary" and admitted she is "struggling" with whether to vote for the president.
"I thought General Mattis's words were true and honest and necessary and overdue," Murkowski, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said on her way to a vote in the Capitol Thursday.
"When I saw Gen. Mattis's comments yesterday I felt like perhaps we're getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns we might hold internally and have the courage of our convictions and speak up," she told The Washington Post's Paul Kane, who pooled the remarks and sent them to other Senate reporters.
Asked if she could vote for Trump in the 2020 election, Murkowski admitted, "I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time."
She noted that Trump is "our duly elected president" and said "I will continue to work with him" and "I will continue to work with this administration."
But she said she doesn't know how to fully respond to Trump's controversial handling of social justice protests that have swept the country, in particular his order to clear a crowd of peaceful protesters in front of the White House and his threat to deploy thousands of active-duty troops to restore order.
"I think right now as we are all struggling to find ways to express the words that need to be expressed appropriately, questions about who I'm going to vote for [or] not going to vote for I think are distracting at the moment," she said.
Mattis, who served as Trump's secretary of Defense in 2017 and 2018, ripped the president Wednesday as a divisive leader who threatened to erode the U.S. military's tradition of staying out of politics.
"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people-does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us," Mattis wrote in a 650-word statement in The Atlantic, his first public criticism since he left the administration.
Mattis said the nation is now "witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort" and "three years without mature leadership."
The decorated former Marine general, who served as commander of the U.S. Central Command and commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, before becoming secretary of Defense, warned that Trump's injection of military forces into the middle of the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd could undermine public support for armed forces.
"Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict-a false conflict-between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect," Mattis warned.
Murkowski's comments went significantly further than what other Republican senators said when asked about Mattis.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a prominent Trump critic, complimented Mattis but stopped short of agreeing with his statement.
"General Mattis is a person of extraordinary integrity and sacrifice. He's a patriot who has sound judgment and capacity. I admire him a great deal," Romney said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who criticized Trump bluntly earlier in the week for allowing peaceful protesters in front of the White House to be forcibly removed so he could appear before St. John's church for a photo op, also praised Mattis.
"I have great respect for former Secretary Mattis and his previous military service," she said.
Collins, however, said around noontime that she had not yet read Mattis's statement.
"I saw reports of it but I haven't read it yet. I do intend to read it today," she said.
Other Republicans dismissed Mattis's criticism of the president.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Mattis "[has] always been one of my favorite people."
But he said when he became Defense secretary "he had never been around that kind of environment" and "consequently he was kind of encumbered from the very beginning of not really understanding on [sic] the political enemy."
"And that put him in a position that was rather blunt and awkward," he added.
Inhofe defended Trump's serious consideration of invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty troops to quell protests.
"Everyone believes that ultimately you have to - the final thing would have to be troops coming in, if nothing else worked. Last resort," he said.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who faces a tough re-election race this year, said he understands concerns about deploying regular military to restore order.
"I think you run the risk of escalation versus just trying to work with local law enforcement and the national guard," he said.
Asked about Mattis's claim that Trump has intentionally tried to divide the nation, Tillis said, "I'm not really sure if Secretary Mattis could get inside and understand the president's intention."
"I understand what he's saying because we're seeing some division right now," he added.
Updated at 1:17 p.m.