Trump tweets spark fresh headache for Republicans
Senate Republicans are facing new headaches from an old source: President Trump’s Twitter account.
The president this month has weighed in on the handling of protesters, called out several Republican senators by name and, most recently, amplified a conspiracy theory about a 75-year-old man injured by police in Buffalo, N.Y.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) distanced himself from the president’s latest tweets on Tuesday but acknowledged that GOP senators would also largely prefer to not have to talk about Trump’s social media habits.
“Most of us up here would rather not be political commentators on the president’s tweets because that’s a daily exercise,” Thune said.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is retiring, said he would leave it up to others, including the “distinguished media,” to evaluate Trump’s tweets.
“The voters can evaluate that,” he added. “I’m not going to give a running commentary on the president’s tweets.”
Trump’s Twitter account has been a persistent headache for congressional Republicans, many of whom outsource their own message-disciplined social media accounts to their staff. But Trump’s tweets have been a key source for news, with the president using it to fire top staff, announce executive orders, opine on legislation and even vent against members of his own party.
The president tweets, sometimes hundreds of times a day. GOP lawmakers are then asked to weigh in, forcing them to decide whether to break with Trump, support him or, in many cases, say they haven’t seen the tweet in question — extending the news cycle.
That played out in real time on Tuesday after Trump suggested that an elderly man pushed to the ground by Buffalo police during a protest over the police killing of George Floyd could be a “set up” and an “ANTIFA provocateur.”
“I watched, he fell harder than was pushed,” the president added. “Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”
Two Buffalo police officers were charged with assault, and pleaded not guilty, after a video went viral of them shoving Martin Gugino, 75, after he slowly approached them during the protest. Gugino, after being pushed, staggered and fell backward, hitting his head on the ground and lying motionless as blood pooled on the sidewalk and the officers walked away.
The tweet quickly sucked up the political oxygen in the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked twice during his weekly press conference about the tweet and both times tried to turn the focus back to a GOP working group on police reforms.
“As I’ve said, what we’ve been talking about here in the Senate Republican Conference is what we think is the appropriate response to the events of the last few weeks. And under the leadership and guidance of Sen. Tim Scott [R-S.C.] at some point in the near future we’ll have recommendations to be made,” McConnell told reporters.
But the backlash from some GOP senators was swift.
Asked about the tweet, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) responded: “Oh, Lord. Ugh.”
“Again, why would you fan the flames?” she asked.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is up for reelection in November, told reporters that it “would be best” if Trump didn’t weigh in on “issues that are before the courts.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called it “shocking.”
“I won’t dignify it with any further comment,” he added.
But some Republicans gave familiar answers that date back to when Trump first rocketed onto the GOP political scene in 2015: Many said they had not seen the president’s latest tweet and that they would prefer not to.
Asked about the tweet, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked if reporters were sharing “talking points.”
“I’m not familiar with it,” Cornyn said. When a reporter asked if he wanted to look at it, Cornyn added: “Not particularly.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told reporters he hadn’t seen the tweet.
“I know,” he added, when a reporter said they had a copy he could look at. “I’d just as soon not.”
Tuesday’s tweet was only the latest in recent days to rankle Republicans. Late last month, Trump appeared to warn that people who looted buildings would be shot, prompting questions for senators about the tone of the president’s remarks at a time when the country is being rocked by racial tensions.
During the past week, Trump also used his Twitter account to call out a handful of GOP senators, including threatening to campaign against Murkowski after she told reporters she was “struggling” with whether to support Trump’s reelection bid.
The president’s remarks on Murkowski sparked pushback from Senate Republicans, including Thune and Cornyn, who said they would not support trying to unseat a GOP senator.
“I’d leave Lisa alone. She’s a member of our conference, and we want to keep it that way,” Thune said on Monday, asked by The Hill about the president’s tweet.
Some GOP senators indicated they saw Tuesday’s tweet as par for the course and didn’t see the president changing.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said he didn’t have a specific take on Trump’s tweet but that, given the president’s social media habits, he wasn’t surprised.
“I don’t think it should be surprising in general because he tweets a lot, so I don’t know how significant this one tweet is gonna be,” he added.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), shown a printout of the tweet, told reporters: “I don’t think Donald Trump’s going to change his behavior.”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.