The difference between Democratic and Republican reactions to the protests: Elevate George Floyd or ‘antifa’?

Black Lives Matter

Some Republican senators have followed President Trump and his administration’s cues to focus less on the grievances on the protesters and more on the looting and rioting after dark. Trump and his attorney general have, without citing evidence, accused far-left actors, known as “antifa,” of orchestrating much of the protests. Trump wants to label them a terrorist organization. That’s despite the doubts by scholars of antifa in America that such an orchestration is possible.

But Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have echoed the antifa accusation, with calls to get tough on them.

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), a top Senate Republican, raised up comments made over the weekend by Trump’s national security adviser saying the protests were actually helping foreign adversaries undermine America’s standing in the world.

Other Republican lawmakers were more measured in their response — going out of their way to acknowledge the anger in the black community about Floyd’s death and other police killings. But most circled their comments back to speaking out against the looting. It often seemed like condemning portions of the protests, rather than Floyd’s death, was their reason for speaking out.

And Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), a House conservative, drew on former president Barack Obama’s words to condemn the violent protests:

Democrats, by contrast, focused almost entirely on the anger and injustice driving the protests, and sometimes sought to reframe the vast majority of protesters in a positive light — and police in a negative one.

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) was a former police chief, but she has been one of the most vocal lawmakers on social media questioning police tactics. She wrote a widely read op-ed in The Washington Post in the past week: “My fellow brothers and sisters in blue, what the hell are you doing?” (She’s also a potential vice presidential pick for Joe Biden.)

Many other Democrats used the moment to criticize Trump. On Sunday night, the White House turned out its lights as the city’s curfew hit, and some Democrats grabbed onto that image to try to symbolize the president’s lack of a forceful response to address police brutality.

Congress is out of Washington as these protests rage, and not really poised to do anything about it from a legislative or even symbolic perspective. Proposals have ranged from, on the left, a national registry of police misconduct, to on the right, trying to declare antifa as a terrorist organization. (Which Trump has said he wants to do.)

But even if Congress did decide it wanted to act on one of the nation’s most alarming racial conflicts in decades, these initial divided reactions among lawmakers — with two parties seeing the same events noticeably differently — show how hard any kind of consensus would be.

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