GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op

Several Republican senators backed Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyAdaptability remains a constant — even as the 'character of war' changes Afghan civilian casualties hit record high amid US withdrawal Top US general won't rule out airstrikes against Taliban after withdrawal MORE’s statement on Thursday voicing regret for participating in President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE’s photo-op outside St. John’s Episcopal Church last week. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks MORE (R-S.C.) said he has nothing but “deep admiration for and total confidence in” Milley, following the general’s statement that he should not have been at the photo-op. 

“I support his statement in both substance and spirit regarding the recent presidential visit to St. Johns,” Graham tweeted Thursday. 

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“General Milley is a tremendous military leader who understands the long tradition of maintaining an apolitical, nonpartisan military,” Graham added. 

Milley was photographed in uniform walking with Trump to the church last Monday, shortly after protesters near the White House were forcibly cleared from Lafayette Square by federal law enforcement and National Guardsmen. 

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonEx-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis Republicans raise concerns about Olympians using digital yuan during Beijing Games MORE (R-Ark.) also voiced support for Milley’s statement, noting that he thinks Milley regrets wearing his camouflage utility uniform at the time. 

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“I know one thing Gen. Milley regrets is that he was at the White House in his camouflage utility uniform,” Cotton said on Fox News. “By custom and courtesy, military officers always wear dress uniforms there.”

He said Milley was on his way to the FBI’s downtown command center and in the same uniform as troops on the street. 

“I know this, he is acting in the finest traditions of military leadership, and he is taking responsibility not just for the reality, but for perceptions,” Cotton said. “And if he thinks the perceptions reflected negatively on the commander in chief, all the way down to our young troops who were out in Lafayette Park or on the streets of Washington, D.C., last week, then he's going to take responsibility for it as a military leader, and I commend him for that and we all should.” 

Asked about Milley’s statement, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Officers give grueling, horrific accounts of Jan. 6 MORE (R-Alaska) told reporters she thought it was “a good strong statement for him to make.” 

“I appreciated it,” she added. 

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Milley said he regrets participating in the photo-op during a recorded message that aired at the graduation of the National Defense University on Thursday morning. 

“I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics,” he said. 

Trump has been widely criticized for the photo-op, including from his former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Trump says Gen. Milley 'last person' he'd want to start a coup with Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill MORE

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the decision, comparing it to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspecting World War II bombing damage in 1941.

"For this president, it was powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters the anarchists, they will not prevail, that burning churches are not what America is about,” McEnany said.