WASHINGTON -- Senators with the toughest reelection fights offered varying levels of criticism Tuesday for President Donald Trump's hard-line approach to demonstrators, reflecting the tightrope that Republicans especially walk when it comes to the commander in chief.
Trump on Monday declared himself the law-and-order president and said he would use the military against citizens to combat violence and looting, and some of his fellow Republicans praised his leadership. But others defended the right to protest, called for efforts to calm rather than inflame calm tensions, or urged systemic change following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Democrats running in states that Trump won in 2016, meanwhile, said the president had gone too far and said matters should be left in the hands of civilian authorities.
The senators spoke as the chamber returned to Washington for votes on nominations and possible changes to pandemic relief measures.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican whose longtime reputation as an independent-minded lawmaker has ebbed during the Trump era, took a sharp tone against the president.
"To me, at a time like this, the president ought to be trying to calm the nation," Collins said.
She was particularly critical of the Trump administration's apparent effort Monday evening to remove peaceful demonstrators near a church by the White House where the president and many of his aides gathered for photos and where Trump offered brief remarks.
"It was painful to watch peaceful protestors to 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," Collins added. "All of us are upset at the fire that was set at the church, a historic house of worship for many, many presidents. But I thought that the president came across as unsympathetic and as insensitive to the rights of people to peacefully protest."
Montana Republican Steve Daines endorsed Trump's leadership approach.
Daines, whose race for a second Senate term against Gov. Steve Bullock is another one of the most competitive, said he was "grateful for the president's leadership," according to a tweet from NBC News' Kasie Hunt.