WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Republican senator spoke out Tuesday against President Donald Trump’s use of the Bible “as a political prop” as the president warned protesters he would deploy the U.S. military to end violent protests against police brutality.
Police used tear gas to clear peaceful demonstrators from a park Monday night near the White House so Trump could walk to a nearby church and pose with a Bible.
“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others’ property, and no right to throw rocks at police. 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,” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said Tuesday.
Sasse, who has at times criticized Trump but won his endorsement for reelection, said public officials nationwide “should be lowering the temperature” over protests and violence following the death in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minnesota. Four Minneapolis police officers have been fired and one has been charged with murder in Floyd’s death.
“Police injustice — like the evil murder of George Floyd — is repugnant and merits peaceful protest aimed at change,” Sasse said, adding that “riots are abhorrent acts of violence that hurt the innocent.” Both messages should be heard as Americans work to end violence and injustice, Sasse said.
Sasse’s comments were among the strongest by GOP senators following Trump’s demand Monday to end the heated protests and his vow to use military force to achieve that if necessary. Republicans have frequently muted any criticism of Trump, and only GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah voted in favor of Trump’s impeachment in February.
After Trump’s hardline speech Monday in the White House Rose Garden, the president walked to nearby St. John’s Church, where he held up a Bible for photographers. 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.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said his impression was that 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.”
On Trump’s threat to send in the military to quell violence, Cornyn said he believes Trump would only do so as a last resort.
“I think he would arguably have the authority to do, although there would be a lot of constitutional scholars debating what the contours of that authority are,” Cornyn said. “But so far he hasn’t done it. Hopefully, he won’t do it. It won’t be necessary. And we will try to bring some peace back to our communities.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., condemned rioting in his home city of Louisville and other cities, even as he said the nation is united in horror and opposition to Floyd’s murder.
“This selfish violence takes us farther away from any national healing or forward progress. It does not bring positive change any closer. It pushes it farther away,” McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor.
“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,” McConnell said.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, meanwhile, said use of National Guard troops “should be a local decision,″ based on ”what the mayors and governors want.”
Portman said he does not expect U.S. troops to move into Ohio or other states. “The National Guard certainly in Ohio is capable of handling the situation,” he said.