Sen. Lisa Murkowski told reporters Thursday she thought comments by former Defense Secretary James Mattis that President Donald Trump “tries to divide” the American people were “true and honest and necessary and overdue,” adding that she is “struggling” over whether to vote for the president.
The Alaska Republican said she was pleased to see people "have the courage and our own conviction to speak up” with views they might hold internally. Asked whether she was struggling with support for Trump, she said she was and had been for a “long time.”
“I think you know that — I didn’t support the president in the initial election and I work hard to try and make sure that I'm able to represent my state well, that I'm able to work with any administration and with any president,” she said. She vowed to continue working with him, and his administration, but said questions about who she will vote for are “are distracting to the moment.”
Mattis has broad support among Senate Republicans for his long military service. On Wednesday, he wrote in The Atlantic that Trump's presidency has lacked "mature leadership" and criticized his holding a photo-op at St. John’s Church across from the White House. He said troops were ordered to "violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens" who were protesting, but were cleared out by force and tear gas to make way for the president's walk across Lafayette Square.
Utah Republican Mitt Romney, a frequent critic of the president, praised Mattis on Thursday.
“He expressed his opinion and it was very powerful and it was a stunning letter,” said Romney. “He’s an American patriot with extraordinary service and sacrifice and great judgement.”
But many Senate Republicans stuck with Trump, and didn’t want to insert themselves into tensions between the president and the retired general.
Todd Young of Indiana said the focus should be on foreign policy threats, including the Chinese moves in Hong Kong and the posture of Iran.
“As a fellow Marine, I know that General Mattis and others will respect the fact that I’m not going to get in the middle of a row between the president of the United States and his former secretary of Defense and instead focus on threats to our freedom,” said Young.
Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe suggested that Mattis’ exit from the administration may have fueled the criticism.
He said that Mattis was put in a “blunt and awkward” position early in his time as secretary because of his inexperience with the political maneuvering necessary to navigate that job.
“Once you’re fired, sometimes that affects your attitude,” he said.
On Dec. 20, 2018, Mattis resigned effective Feb. 28, 2019. But on Dec. 23, Trump tweeted that Mattis would be out as of Jan. 1, 2019.
Inhofe also also praised the former secretary.
“General Mattis has always been one of my favorite people. He’s a hero,” said Inhofe.
“I know he had strong beliefs and I think everyone believes that ultimately the final things would have to be troops coming in if nothing else works. And that’s a last resort,” he said.
Other GOP members, like Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, were more muted on the topic, saying Mattis had the right to his opinion, and had seen television coverage but had not yet read Mattis' statement.