Trump clashes with Republicans over George Floyd protests

Donald Trump has vowed to oust a Republican senator who endorsed a rebuke of his response to the death of George Floyd, as the president comes under pressure from some in his party and former military officials.

Mr Trump took aim at Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska senator, after she described an attack by former defence secretary Jim Mattis on the president as “true and honest, and necessary and overdue”.

Asked if she could back Mr Trump, Ms Murkowski replied: “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.”

Mr Trump responded forcefully. “Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the great state of Alaska . . . campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski,” the president said about the senator who faces re-election in 2022.

“Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!” Mr Trump said in a bid to encourage other Republicans to run against her in the GOP primary in 2020.

Ms Murkowski’s comments were the strongest public expression of concerns that many Republicans have made in private.

The mounting criticism comes after several retired senior military officers hit out at the president for his handling of the protests following Floyd’s police killing. The 46-year-old black man died after a white officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes.

Mr Mattis, a former general, on Wednesday wrote in The Atlantic magazine that Mr Trump was an immature leader who was making “a mockery” of the constitution, and deliberately trying to divide the American people for political gain. He accused Mr Trump of being “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people”.

The criticism came as mourners held a memorial service for Floyd in Minneapolis and protests continued in cities across the country for a 10th consecutive night.

The Rev Al Sharpton, a civil-rights activist, said in a eulogy that the killing of Floyd was a reminder of how all African-Americans had lived an experience where there was always a knee on their necks.

“It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say: get your knee off our necks,” Mr Sharpton told mourners.

In San Francisco, city officials responded to activist calls to “defund the police” by announcing a plan to redirect resources “to support the African-American community.” 

In Buffalo, New York, two police officers were suspended after a 75-year-old man was knocked to the ground and suffered head injuries, according to Andrew Cuomo, New York governor. “This incident is wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful,” he wrote on Twitter.

Critics have levelled a series of charges against Mr Trump, including rebuking him for threatening to send soldiers on to the streets to deal with the overwhelmingly peaceful protests.

They have also attacked the president for a stunt that saw him hold up a Bible for a photo opportunity after law enforcement officers used chemical agents and rubber bullets to disperse a peaceful crowd to allow the president to walk from the White House to a nearby church.

Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican senator, this week said he was “against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo-op that treats the word of God as a political prop”.

Tim Scott, the only black Republican senator who is normally a close ally of Mr Trump, also spoke out. “Should you use tear gas to clear a path so the president can go have a photo-op? The answer is no,” said the South Carolina lawmaker.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the use of the chemical agents.

Twitter on Thursday disabled a Floyd tribute video posted by Mr Trump’s reelection campaign, citing a complaint from the copyright holder. The move threatens to escalate a feud with the president, after the social media company alerted users to potential misinformation in an earlier tweet and said another had violated its terms by “glorifying violence”.

Earlier, Mr Trump shot back at Mr Mattis by claiming that he had fired him, even though the retired general submitted his resignation in a scathing letter. But John Kelly, a retired marine general who previously served as Mr Trump’s chief of staff and is a longtime friend of Mr Mattis, said the president’s recollection of the event was wrong.

“The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation,” Mr Kelly told The Washington Post.

Mr Mattis was just one of several former military officers who made rare interventions in politics this week after Mr Trump threatened to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, which would allow him to deploy active-duty soldiers in US cities.

Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said he was “sickened” that security forces had been ordered to “forcibly and violently clear a path” to allow Mr Trump to take the Bible photo.

Mr Mullen added that Mr Trump had emboldened US adversaries and “risked further politicising the men and women of our armed forces”.

Martin Dempsey, who succeeded Mr Mullen as chairman of the joint chiefs, on Thursday told NPR that he viewed Mr Trump’s threat to use the military to quell the protests as “dangerous”.

Ms Murkowski said she hoped Mr Mattis’s comments would spur other Republicans to “have the courage of [their] own convictions to speak up”.

A rift has also opened between Mr Trump and his current secretary of defence, Mark Esper, who broke with the president and said he opposed any effort to invoke the Insurrection Act.

Washington saw big protests for a 10th consecutive night but did not impose a curfew on Thursday, after demonstrations went ahead peacefully on Wednesday night with little unrest.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi

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