Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is once again in the national spotlight as she backs former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ strong rebuke of President Donald Trump’s proposal to involve the U.S. military in protest suppression across the country. Murkowski said she is unsure if she will vote for Trump in November — statement's that garnered a pair of angry Thursday afternoon tweets from the president himself.
Trump has proposed invoking the 1807 Insurrection Act, which would allow for the use of the U.S. military against civilians on U.S. soil in an attempt to suppress the multi-day protests that have occurred across the country over the last week — a move that Mattis firmly criticized in a 650-word statement published earlier this week in The Atlantic.
“Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect,” warned Mattis, who served as defense secretary from January 2017 to January 2019.
Murkowski told Washington, D.C., reporters on her way to a vote Thursday that, “I thought General Mattis’ words were true and honest and necessary and overdue."
This triggered a swift defense from the president who took to his Twitter account later that day to lambaste the senior senator for her positions.
"Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski. She voted against HealthCare, Justice Kavanaugh, and much else," Trump posted to his Twitter account. "...Unrelated, I gave Alaska ANWR, major highways, and more. Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!"
Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski. She voted against HealthCare, Justice Kavanaugh, and much else...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020
...Unrelated, I gave Alaska ANWR, major highways, and more. Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020
Opposition with the proposal to invoke the Insurrection Act is a position Murkowski and Mattis share.
“We need to be listening to the peaceful protesters, not looking backwards to the laws from the 1800s to perpetuate conflict today," Murkowski said in a statement emailed to the Daily News-Miner Thursday afternoon. "I don’t think militarization is the answer to the anxiety, the fear, the distrust, the oppression we feel right now.”
The statement in the Atlantic was Mattis' first public criticism since he resigned from the administration amid dispute of Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us,” Mattis wrote.
Mattis wrote that the country is witnessing the results of "three years without mature leadership."
Murkowski, when pressed on the issue, said Mattis' comments may open the door for others to feel comfortable speaking up.
"I felt like perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns we might hold internally and have the courage of our convictions and speak up,” she told The Washington Post's Paul Kane.
Murkowski remains unsure whether she will vote for Trump in the November election.
"I am struggling with it," she said. "I have struggled with it for a long time."
Murkowski said earlier that day that she feels Trump is "our duly elected president" and that she plans to continue working with him and his administration.
She said she still isn't sure how to fully respond to the president's controversial approach to the national protests, including his order earlier this week for police to disperse a crowd of peaceful protesters outside the White House to create a path so he could go to a nearby church for a photo opportunity.
“I think right now as we are all struggling to find ways to express the words that need to be expressed appropriately, questions about who I’m going to vote for [or] not going to vote for I think are distracting at the moment,” she said.
Murkowski is not up for reelection until 2022.
Alaska's sole representative, Republican Rep. Don Young, disagrees. Young issued a statement Thursday afternoon firmly stating he backs Trump.
“I support our president and want him to be successful in unifying our nation and healing our wounds," Young said.
Young said the United States has "had much to overcome to achieve racial equality" and has "more work to do."
"I am very proud of Alaskans who peacefully demonstrated over the suffocation of George Floyd. They respectfully exercised their First Amendment right and had their voices heard. I think this peaceful action is the best way to honor George Floyd’s memory and bring people together to make our country a better place for everyone," he said.
Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said he agrees with Mattis' "calls for unity at this time" but didn't go as far as Murkowski in backing Mattis' full statement.
"While I would urge the president to try to strike a unifying tone and message during these challenging times, the blame game and finger-pointing on issues of race in America are not constructive, particularly now," Sullivan said, noting he feels the nation needs to "listen to each other, learn and then take appropriate action together."
Sullivan has backed Trump throughout his presidency. However, Sullivan has a longstanding and positive relationship with Mattis. Both have served — and Sullivan continues to serve — in the Marine Corps, and Sullivan noted his praise of Mattis' service as defense secretary in a statement issued following Mattis' resignation in 2018.
In a post made to his official Facebook page earlier this week, Sullivan criticized protesters for "looting, burning and targeting police officers and National Guardsmen," calling the actions "the antithesis of freedom of speech" and pointing to the actions as further dividing the nation.
That being said, Sullivan said doesn’t think that federal active duty troops should be deployed "unless a governor has affirmatively requested them."
Murkowski has also criticized violent protesters for "burning and looting stores and homes."
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.