“We need to have zero tolerance for this destruction,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote on Twitter, even suggesting that the Army’s 101st Airborne Division and other high-profile units of the military be used to quell any future looting.
“Whatever it takes to restore order,” he said. “No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.”
A few hours later, Trump thanked Cotton for those comments, tweeting that they were “100% correct.” In remarks in the Rose Garden on Monday evening, Trump said he would deploy the military to put down protests if states fail to quell the violence, though it was unclear what legal authority he would use.
Others expressed empathy toward the Floyd family and peaceful protesters, while condemning those committing violence.
“Our country is hurting right now as we mourn this tragedy, and those responsible must be held accountable. We all want justice and peace, and I commend the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters who exercised their First Amendment rights this weekend,” Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) said in a prepared statement, calling for an end to “the troubling history of abuse against our fellow Americans.”
Cotton, 43, served in the 101st Airborne in Iraq in 2006, and Young, 47, attended the Naval Academy and served as a Marine intelligence officer.
The second-ranking Senate Republican, Sen. John Thune (S.D.), said the country “is looking for healing and calm. And I think the president needs to project that in his tone. He masters that sometimes, and . . . that’s the tone he needs to strike right now.”
Some Republicans tried to straddle both sides of that divide, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did in a speech opening the chamber for a week in which the agenda is votes on presidential nominees and judges.
McConnell began by discussing Floyd’s death, along with the release of a video in Georgia showing the shooting death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery, in which a former police officer and his son have been charged, and Breonna Taylor, who was killed in March by police executing a raid on her apartment in Louisville.
“These disturbing events do not look like three isolated incidents. They look more like the latest chapter in our national struggle to make equal justice and equal protection of the law into facts of life for all Americans, rather than contingencies that sometimes depend on the color of one’s skin,” McConnell said.
But he denounced the rioting that has followed otherwise peaceful protests that have taken place across the country, including outside the White House over the weekend.
“It’s already gone on for entirely too long. I hope state and local authorities will work quickly to crack down on outside agitators and domestic terrorists and restore some order to our cities,” McConnell said. “And if state and local leaders cannot or will not secure the peace, and protect citizens and their property, then I hope the federal government is ready to stand in the breach.”
Unlike Cotton, McConnell did not suggest actually sending in active military units to crack down on the protests. Since Union forces left the South at the end of Reconstruction, following the Civil War, military units have been forbidden from engaging in actions on domestic soil under the Posse Comitatus Act.
Cotton spent a portion of Monday afternoon fighting on Twitter with David French, a conservative Army veteran who is aligned with anti-Trump Republicans. French accused Cotton of endorsing a war crime by referencing “no quarter,” which in the military means surrendering soldiers are shot.
Cotton explained that he was using the more colloquial version of the phrase and tweeted examples of Democrats and mainstream media outlets using the phrase in such a manner. Amid the uproar over the tweet, Cotton’s office pointed to more extensive remarks he made in a Fox News appearance Monday morning to explain that he did not want U.S. military to actually use force, but instead to deploy “active-duty military forces to these cities to support” local police.
Outside the Capitol, hundreds of demonstrators carried signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe” as they protested Floyd’s death. Some knelt as they ringed the plaza under the watchful eye of U.S. Capitol Police.
In their own speeches and on conference calls, Democrats floated a variety of ideas to pull together a legislative response.
One approach would be to package several existing bills, as well as some possible new proposals, into a unified legislative response, according to several Democratic aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to frankly describe internal discussions.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, are shepherding that effort.
A centerpiece of the package could be the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act, a piece of Democratic legislation that has existed in various forms for two decades that would expand the federal role in police training and improve police accountability. The bill has the backing of the NAACP, ACLU and numerous other civil rights groups.
Other initiatives include ending the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” that immunizes police officers against lawsuits for line-of-duty conduct. Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), a libertarian who quit the GOP last year, announced Sunday that he would introduce legislation allowing citizens to sue officers who violate their civil rights, and the idea has gained significant traction among Democrats, aides said.
A similar bill sponsored by more than two dozen Democrats would restrict the use of deadly force by federal law enforcement officers unless it is “necessary, as a last resort, to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death.” Another bill under discussion, from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), would make the use of chokeholds or any maneuver that “may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air” illegal under federal civil rights law.
Nadler told Democrats on a conference call Monday that he would hold a hearing next week and then assemble legislation that the House could vote on by the end of the month, when the body is scheduled to meet for floor votes. He is reviewing as many as 40 legislative proposals.
Several lawmakers on the call spoke up to demand urgency in passing legislation to respond to the crisis, including Reps. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) and Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) gave an emotional call to action, invoking the death of her black son Jordan Davis at the hands of a white man in 2012.
Assembling a package that addresses the priorities of the most liberal elements of the Democratic caucus while also insulating more moderate Democrats from election-year political attacks stands to be a tricky balancing act for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Meanwhile, in the Senate, other Democrats have floated legislative provisions responding to the crisis. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) advocated for a national database of police misconduct in a CNN interview Sunday, to prevent problem officers from moving from department to department, while Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said he would move to end a Pentagon initiative known as the 1033 Program that offers surplus military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies.
Critics have blamed that program for encouraging the militarization of policing and encouraging the use of excessive force. President Barack Obama issued an executive order restricting the program in 2015; Trump reversed that order in 2017.
While racial justice was not formally on the agenda this week, it hung in the air from the very moment of the Senate’s opening prayer.
“We weep because justice delayed is justice denied,” the Rev. Barry Black, the chaplain of the Senate, said during a prayer that used “we weep” as a recurring echo. “We weep because we know you are weeping.”
Black prayed that senators could “strive to find a vaccine to inoculate our nation against hate, sin and despair.”
Speaking immediately after Black, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that one “act of violence at the hands of an officer is one too many” and that Floyd “deserved better.”
“This is an opportunity for Congress to discuss what reforms can and should be made to address police use of force. Let’s move forward and protect our communities together,” Grassley said.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Sen. Brian Schatz as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.