WASHINGTON — Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, on Thursday said she endorsed scathing criticism of President Trump’s leadership by James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, and was grappling with whether to support the president in the coming election.
Ms. Murkowski said the critique by General Mattis, in which he said that Mr. Trump had divided the nation and failed to lead amid growing protests across the country, was “necessary and overdue,” and might prod other Republicans to go public with their private concerns about the president.
“I was really thankful,” Ms. Murkowski said in comments to reporters on Capitol Hill. “I thought General Mattis’s words were true and honest and necessary and overdue.”
The comments by Ms. Murkowski, one of the few Republicans in Congress who has been willing to break with him, suggested that Mr. Trump’s response to nationwide unrest over police brutality and racial discrimination has prompted at least some members of his party to reconsider their support for him. It comes after a rare bipartisan rebuke of the president’s actions earlier this week, when he threatened to unleash the military to crack down on protests, just as police were using chemical agents and flash-bangs against demonstrators outside the White House to clear a path for him to pose outside a church.
When she saw General Mattis’s comments, Ms. Murkowski said, “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.”
She said she was “working as one individual to form the right words.”
Asked whether she could still support Mr. Trump in the coming election, Ms. Murkowski said: “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.”
Ms. Murkowksi, who was elected to her third full term in 2016, did not endorse Mr. Trump that year, and after leaked audio surfaced of him boasting about sexually assaulting women, she publicly repudiated his candidacy, saying that he had “forfeited the right to be our party’s nominee.”
Still, while she has broken with the president on several occasions, Ms. Murkowski has usually tempered her public criticism of him, as have many other Republicans.
On Thursday, several Republican senators continued to do so, with some insisting they had not seen General Mattis’s remarks or otherwise deflecting questions about them.
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, another frequent critic of Mr. Trump, stopped short of commenting on the substance of General Mattis’s critique, but praised him effusively, leaving little doubt where he stood.
“He’s an American patriot,” Mr. Romney said of the former defense secretary. “He’s an individual whose judgment I respect, and I think the world of him.”
“What a wonderful, wonderful man,” Mr. Romney told reporters.
Others rejected the criticisms of Mr. Trump outright. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a close ally of the president, said that General Mattis had been taken in by a “liberal media” that was bent on blaming Mr. Trump for everything.
“I’m not saying he’s blameless,” Mr. Graham said of the president during an interview on Fox News, “but I am saying that you’re buying into a narrative that I think is, quite frankly, unfair.”