A number of Republican senators dodged questions or were silent on Tuesday when pressed for reaction after President Donald Trump suggested without evidence that a 75-year-old man who was seriously injured after being shoved by police officers in Buffalo, New York, last week, may have been part of a “set up.”
In an unsubstantiated claim, the President tweeted Tuesday morning, “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”
At a news conference following a Republican policy lunch, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky refused to say whether Trump’s tweet was appropriate.
CNN pressed him twice, and he instead pointed to the work led by GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina to try to put together a police reform package.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican from Georgia, wouldn’t answer a question about the President’s tweet as she hopped on an elevator along with an aide in the Capitol.
CNN printed out a copy of the President’s tweet and tried to read it to Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, who said he hadn’t seen it, and then said: “I don’t want to comment right now. I’m on my way to a meeting. I’ll see it when I see it.”
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told CNN he hadn’t seen the tweet, but he also didn’t want it read to him. “I would rather not hear it,” he said as he walked onto an elevator.
“Voters can evaluate that,” Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said, adding: “I’m not going to give a running commentary on the President’s tweets.”
Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, a vulnerable Republican whom Trump praised Tuesday on Twitter, said when asked about the tweet: “The violence we are seeing across the nation is heartbreaking. We all need to pull together — both for civility and peaceful dialogue.”
He did not respond to a question about whether Trump should have tweeted about the Buffalo incident.
Video of the altercation in Buffalo shows a row of officers walking toward the man and two pushing him. His head bleeds onto the sidewalk as officers walk past him, some looking down at him.
GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida declined to weigh in on Trump’s tweet on his way into a hearing, saying, “I didn’t see it, you’re telling me about it. I don’t read Twitter, I only write on it.” Pressed on it later, Rubio said he couldn’t make a judgment because he didn’t know anything about the man who was pushed to the ground.
“I have no information about that man or who he is,” Rubio said.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said that he hasn’t seen the tweet: “You know a lot of this stuff just goes over my head.”
Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida, also told CNN that he didn’t see Trump’s tweet and that while he watched the video of the man in Buffalo, he didn’t watch it closely enough to know what happened.
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was critical of the tweet, however, telling CNN, “I saw the tweet it was a shocking thing to say and I won’t dignify it with any further comment.”
Republican Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota said in his response that: “It’s a serious accusation which should only be made with facts and evidence and I haven’t seen any yet.”
Asked if the President should stop making such accusations, Thune said: “Well I think that’s a given. But most of us up here would rather not be political commentators on the President’s tweets. That’s a daily exercise, which I know you have to cover but we are. Like I said of what I seen, saw the tweet, saw the video, that’s serious accusation.”
The incident in Buffalo has generated national attention amid nationwide protests and unrest after George Floyd was killed while in Minneapolis police custody.
Fifty-seven police officers in Buffalo resigned from the force’s emergency response team following the suspension of the two officers who are seen on video pushing the 75-year-old man. An investigation is underway in a protest incident that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, called “wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday criticized Senate Republicans for largely staying silent and refusing to criticize the President over the tweet.
“Republicans have been ducking and dodging about this,” Schumer said. “When a 75-year-old man is pushed to the floor and he’s bleeding and Donald Trump blames the victim and comes up with a conspiracy theory probably put out by the Russians about who this man is — that’s a disgrace. They can’t even speak out on that? Wow.”