As Trump rages, Republicans plead for calm

President Donald Trump spent Monday further fanning the flames of confrontation between protesters and police. And some Republicans are urging the president to extinguish them.

Against a backdrop of police officers with riot gear ringing the Capitol as well as protesters chanting “I can’t breathe” and “hands up don’t shoot,” Senate Republicans called for a far gentler touch than the president has displayed so far.

Some said they’d like to hear him make a national address, a move Trump had avoided for days despite deepening nationwide angst. Others implored him to empathize with those outraged over the deaths of George Floyd and other black Americans at the hands of police, even as he acted to curb riots and looting in big cities.

“We are obviously in a divisive situation right now that’s escalating, and I think he needs to make more unifying comments,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

“The country is looking for healing and calm. And I think the president needs to project that in his tone. He masters that sometimes,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “That’s the tone he needs to strike right now.”

Their pleadings followed a day’s worth of presidential grievances and inflammatory rhetoric that caused many in his party to fret once against about Trump’s divisive form of politics. But there was also an acknowledgment by some Republicans that conciliation is just not in Trump’s repertoire, and many have grown tired of trying to get Trump to calibrate his inflammatory rhetoric.

“I don’t think there’s a speech the president can give at this stage that’s going to calm things down,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the only GOP senator to support Trump’s removal during his impeachment trial. “The call today with the governors, as it was reported, doesn’t calm things down.”

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina also personally spoke to Trump over the weekend and suggested he have conversations with black leaders and law enforcement officials away from the cameras.

With more than a dozen major cities embroiled in deadly clashes between police and protesters as well as riots and looting, Trump spent Monday dressing down governors as weak and ordering them to “dominate” demonstrators.

On Twitter, Trump bragged about his poll numbers and attacked former Vice President Joe Biden as “sleepy” and his staff as “radical” for donating money to help bail out protesters. He also endorsed Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) idea to bring in the military to help quell protests.

There are only the faintest signs that the GOP's impatience with his combative approach are sinking in. On short notice, Trump made remarks at the White House on Monday evening and said Americans were "rightly sickened" by Floyd's death and assured that he would not "die in vain."

Casting himself as the "law and order" president, Trump said he would use the federal government to fight back against what he deemed "domestic terrorism.” Police forces dispersed a crowd of peaceful protesters outside the White House with tear gas minutes before D.C.'s curfew began. Trump said he would dispatch thousands of “heavily-armed” soldiers to enforce the curfew.

The United States now faces rising unemployment, ever-increasing coronavirus deaths and now protests in most major cities over harsh police treatment of African Americans across the United States, and some GOP senators are eager for Trump to step up.

“The president should help to heal the racial divisions in this country. It is at times like this that a president needs to speak to the nation, to pledge to right wrongs, and to calm inflamed passions,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who urged Trump to address the nation and tell Americans to peacefully work to combat “racial injustice.”

Trump demands loyalty from Republicans and has dressed down those who have criticized his tone too sharply. So many are sticking with him or staying away from the topic altogether.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) agreed it would be a good idea for Trump to give a national address. But he declined to wade into whether the president was striking the right tone: “I’m not going to comment about the tone of his tweets.”

“Some people love the president, some people don't. And I don't think we're ever going to resolve that,” Cornyn said. “It would be good for him to address the nation.”

“I’m not going to speak for the president, but I just think this is a time we should just show a lot of compassion,” offered Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a close Trump ally, took to the Senate floor on Monday afternoon and sympathized with peaceful protesters while urging an end to the violence and reading into the Senate record details of Floyd’s death. He said it would be good for the country to hear from Trump but stopped short of urging Trump to deliver an address harmonizing with his own message.

“I can only speak for myself. What I think needs to be said is the violence, and the unrest, that does great disservice to [Floyd’s] memory and his cause,” Hawley said. “I defer to [Trump] on what he’s got to do. Every person has to speak for himself or herself.”

Hawley was one of several Republicans to come to the floor on Monday and express his revulsion at police killings of black people. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that the country “cannot deafen itself to the anger, pain, or frustration of black Americans,” and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that “George Floyd deserved better, all black American do.”

But some in the party doubted whether Trump’s bully pulpit could help the nation heal anyway.

“Unifying would be a good thing. But … we never really seem to be able to unify around these incidents that have gone on for a long time,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “Going back to what happened in Ferguson in 2014, there’s a pattern that we can’t seem to figure out how to break away from.”

Quint Forgey contributed to this report.

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Trump’s GOP guardrails obliterated after impeachment

Five days after President Donald Trump was acquitted in the Senate’s impeachment trial, whatever restraints the Republican Party envisioned for him going forward are being utterly obliterated.

The president is ousting impeachment inquiry witnesses like Alexander Vindman and Gordon Sondland with hints at more to come and attacking senators whom he may need down the stretch to support his agenda. He’s defeated the GOP’s free-traders and is continuing to shift billions of Pentagon funds toward the border wall, despite Republicans’ reservations about his use of the national emergency statute.

And after initially treating Trump-sought investigations of Joe and Hunter Biden with skepticism, key Senate Republicans are now plowing ahead with probes of their own into their old colleague.

The upshot is the Senate GOP’s robust anti-Trump wing from four years ago has been whittled down to a handful of Maybe Trumpers. And those who had hoped the president would be chastened by becoming the third president ever to be impeached by the House are doing little to rein him in even though he emerged with a different lesson entirely.

“Presidential personnel matters are for the president to make,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who criticized Trump for requesting probes into the Bidens but found his conduct not impeachable. He declined to reassess his belief that Trump may be humbled after impeachment: “My hope is that the president will have learned something.”

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, arrives at the Capitol for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, in Washington, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Trump almost surely would have faced outrage from Republicans three years ago for ousting two impeachment witnesses, targeting Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and belligerently going after his critics at the National Prayer Breakfast. But what once was a frantic push and pull between congressional Republicans and the president has now become a nearly party-wide synergy with Trump.

They don’t embrace the actions or rhetoric of the confrontational and controversial head of their party, but Republicans are done fighting with him as they head together into a November election in which their fates are tied.

“I hope that’s a last-week phenomenon. And it’s not going to carry on in the future,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) of Trump’s retributions since being acquitted. He declined to implore Trump to put an end to it: “I’m not going to tell him how to do his job.”

Efforts to dial back Trump’s tariffs have been abandoned. Shifting new money from military priorities to the border wall is met with little outrage. The Senate has yet to pass sanctions on Turkey for its Syrian incursion, which came after Trump withdrew troops in the fall and prompted loud handwringing from Republicans.

GOP critics like former Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee are gone, replaced by stalwart allies like Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who was appointed to the seat previously held by the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“The style of how he does things — he’s different in that sense,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), a freshman senator. “In general, I like how he’s trying to shake things up around here.”

And attacks on colleagues like Romney, the lone congressional Republican to support impeaching and removing Trump, are met with only mild concern that the GOP’s whip counts could be affected.

“The president’s never been a legislator. And his view of those relationships would be different than ours would,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership. “Our view is the next vote’s the most important vote. And we’re going to have it before too long.”

Where there is occasional dissent, it is on votes forced upon the GOP by Democrats. The minority party is using its procedural powers to try to curb Trump’s authority to attack Iran and block the national emergency Trump declared to seize wall funding.

But the number of Republicans that support rebuking the president in those areas consistently falls far short of the 67 votes needed to override Trump’s impending veto. And even on those symbolic votes, most in the GOP are loath to break with Trump.

Overall for Republicans, the story of Trumps’ presidency is one of a daily outrage only to be replaced by another. GOP senators have learned to embrace the upbeat economy, the tax cuts, the conservative judges and the deregulation. When Trump finds himself embroiled in controversy, these days they wait until the storm passes, knowing another will follow.

“Things have a short shelf life around here. I think the president, like all of us, is going to be ready to move on,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

Whereas Corker once responded to the president by calling the White House an “adult daycare,” the current targets of Trump’s barbs mostly try not to fire back at him. Manchin, who Trump called a “munchkin,” said being on the receiving end of Trump’s vitriol is “to be expected.”

“I've dealt with a lot of people like the president before so I can work with anybody and everybody. Sometimes they can't control their own emotions,” said Manchin, who Trump savaged during his 2018 re-election campaign. “It’s not a good way to live your life.”

Romney mostly refused to engage with Trump’s attacks on him Monday, which have ranged from calling him a “failed presidential candidate” that didn’t work hard enough to beat former President Barack Obama to alluding to him as among the people “who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” a reference to Romney’s remarks on why he chose to vote to remove Trump from office.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 22:  U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) is seen during a hearing before Senate Foreign Relations Committee October 22, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on

“I don’t really have any comment on his reaction. I expect he’ll say what he believes,” Romney said.

Romney, like every Republican interviewed for this story, said that Trump was entitled to fire Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, and reassign Vindman, a lieutenant colonel, out of the National Security Council after they testified in the impeachment inquiry. The Utah senator did say he admired them for responding to congressional subpoenas.

A handful of Republicans did try to delay the firing of Sondland — a longtime donor to Senate Republicans — in a bid to shield Trump from allegations that he was punishing those who testified against him in the impeachment inquiry. But it doesn’t appear there was a full-scale effort to save Sondland’s job.

“Ambassador Sondland was planning on leaving. He had been there for two years,” said Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who Sondland donated to in the past. Tillis, who did not speak directly to Trump, suggested to the White House that “we have a little bit longer glide path. But now it is what it is.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was also working to delay Sondland’s firing but downplayed it as “a couple phone calls” aimed at letting Sondland resign rather than be fired.

Johnson was more enthusiastic about digging into Hunter Biden’s role at a Ukrainian energy company during the time his father was vice president. Johnson and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are requesting the State Department release any documents related to Hunter Biden.

The Wisconsin Republican said so far, he’s received “virtually none.” Now that Trump’s trial is over, he expects things to pick up as Republicans join the president's call for probes into his enemies rather than urge Trump to move on from the Ukraine saga.

“We have not been getting document production and the White House has been reluctant during the impeachment,” Johnson said. “So hopefully now that that's past we'll start getting” documents.

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