WASHINGTON – A handful of GOP senators spoke out Tuesday against President Donald Trump, criticizing his visit to a church after police removed peaceful demonstrators from a park near the White House. The remarks came even as most Republicans continued to avoid any disapproval of the president.
In a memorable scene captured live on television, police cleared Lafayette Park so Trump could walk to nearby St. John's Church and pose with a Bible.
Trump's actions drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and religious leaders who said he was misusing the Bible and the church where presidents have prayed for more than 150 years. Some Republicans joined in the criticism Tuesday.
“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others' property ... but there is a fundamental – a Constitutional – right to protest, and I'm against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop,” said Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, said Trump's visit to the church was unhelpful and not something Scott would have done.
“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 told Politico on Tuesday, while noting he did not personally see the incident.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said 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.'' While Americans are justifiably upset that the historic church was set on fire and vandalized, “I thought that the president came across as unsympathetic and insensitive,'' she said.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., called Trump's walk to the church “confrontational” and said it “distracted from his important message in the Rose Garden about our national grief, racism, peaceful protests and lawful assembly.'' That message “was drowned out by an awkward photo op,'' Lankford said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Trump “thought this would be some unifying message, but of course it was for half the country, and the other half were outraged by it. And that's just where we are, sadly.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that “Democrats' obsession with condemning President Trump” was blinding them to more urgent priorities, such as “ending the riots or advancing racial justice.''
McConnell condemned rioting in his home city of Louisville, Kentucky, and other cities, even as he said the nation is united in horror and opposition to George Floyd's death. “The legitimate and important voices of peaceful protesters will never be heard over the wailing of fire alarms, the smashing of plate-glass windows, and the sirens of ambulances coming for police officers who have been assaulted or shot in the head,'' he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he was glad Trump went to a “historic church in our capital city that was firebombed by terrorists. It was important for the president to be there and say we will not be cowed by terrorists. All of us have a First Amendment right to speak, but you don't have a right to burn a church.''