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Murkowski calls Mattis’s rebuke of Trump true; many in GOP distance themselves from former defense secretary

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, talked with reporters following a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington. Murkowski acknowledged Thursday, June 4, that she’s “struggling” over whether she can support President Donald Trump given his handling of the virus and race crises shaking the United States.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, talked with reporters following a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington. Murkowski acknowledged Thursday, June 4, that she’s “struggling” over whether she can support President Donald Trump given his handling of the virus and race crises shaking the United States. Susan Walsh/Associated Press/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — In a major break with President Trump, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski said Thursday that she is struggling over her support for her fellow Republican and praised former defense secretary Jim Mattis for a statement in which he accused Trump of trying to deliberately divide Americans.

‘‘I thought General Mattis’s words were true and honest and necessary and overdue,’’ Murkowski told reporters at the Capitol, adding that she had been ‘‘struggling’’ to find the right words to express her feelings about Trump’s presidency.

Her comments stood out among Republicans, who for the most part either remained silent in the wake of Mattis’s criticism, accused the media of trying to stir controversy, or offered supportive words for Trump. The president on Wednesday attacked Mattis on Twitter after the Atlantic published the former secretary’s statement earlier in the day.

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In addition to saying that Trump ‘‘is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people,’’ Mattis took exception to Trump’s threats of military force on American streets and praised those demanding justice following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

‘‘When I saw General Mattis’s comments yesterday, I felt like perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up,’’ Murkowski said. ‘‘And so I’m working as one individual to form the right words, knowing that these words really matter. So I appreciate General Mattis’s comments.’’

Asked if she can still support Trump, Murkowski said: ‘‘I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.’’

‘‘He is duly elected our president,’’ she said. ‘‘I will continue to work with him. I will continue to work with this administration.’’

Other Republicans sought to distance themselves from Mattis’s sentiments while still praising the service of the retired Marine general.

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South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham accused Mattis of ‘‘buying into a narrative’’ from the news media that everything wrong with the country is Trump’s fault.

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe said that Mattis has ‘‘always been one of my favorite people’’ and blamed the media for exaggerating tensions between Mattis and Trump.

Trump responded on Twitter on Wednesday night, criticizing Mattis in a pair of tweets that had at least two factual errors.

‘‘Probably the only thing Barack Obama and I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about. His nickname was ‘Chaos’, which I didn’t like, & changed it to ‘Mad Dog’,’’ Trump tweeted. ‘‘His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations. I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom ‘brought home the bacon’. I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!’’

In reality, Mattis resigned in 2018 as he disagreed with Trump’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria. Mattis’s military call sign was ‘‘Chaos,’’ and the nickname ‘‘Mad Dog,’’ which Mattis dislikes, came along years before Trump became president.