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McConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump's response to protests

Washington — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a resolution proposed by Senate Democrats that would have condemned President Trump's response to protesters in Washington, D.C., on Monday, when federal law enforcement officers forcefully removed demonstrators from a park across from the White House.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced the resolution on Tuesday, saying on the Senate floor that the removal of the protesters was "appalling" and "an abuse of presidential power." He attempted to pass the measure by unanimous consent, which does not require a vote by the whole Senate but can be blocked by any member.

McConnell objected, accusing Democrats of pulling a political stunt in the middle of the crisis sparked by the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee to his neck.

Speaking after Schumer, McConnell called Floyd's death a "heinous act of criminal violence," and said "there's no doubt that residual racism continues to be a stain on our country." But the Republican leader argued that peaceful protests had been "hijacked" by violent riots and looting, and said the Democratic resolution would do nothing to ease tensions.

"Those are the two issues that Americans want addressed: racial justice, and ending riots. Unfortunately, this resolution from my friend the Democratic leader does not address either one of them. Instead, it just indulges in the myopic obsession with President Trump that has come to define the Democratic side of the aisle," McConnell said. McConnell also proposed a resolution affirming the right to peaceful protest and condemning riots which was then blocked by Schumer.

The Democrats' resolution would have affirmed the constitutional rights of Americans to peacefully protest, as well as state that violence and looting are unacceptable. It also would have condemned Mr. Trump "for ordering Federal officers to use gas and rubber bullets against the Americans who were peaceably protesting in Lafayette Square in Washington, DC on the night of June 1, 2020, thereby violating the constitutional rights of those peaceful protestors."

A Justice Department official told CBS News that Attorney General William Barr was part of the decision to expand the perimeter around the White House, pushing protesters who were assembled there from the area before Mr. Trump delivered remarks from the Rose Garden. Protesters had gathered for the fourth day of demonstrations in response to Floyd's death and other instances of police brutality. The protests were described as peaceful before law enforcement deployed tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators and cleared them from the area.

After walking across the cleared-out Lafayette Park, Mr. Trump posed for photographs in front of St. John's Episcopal Church while holding the Bible, joined by several members of his cabinet.

Senate Republicans largely shied away from criticizing the president's visit to the church Monday evening. Senator Ron Johnson told reporters he "didn't see it" when asked about the president's photo op on Tuesday.

"I'm not going to critique other people's performances," McConnell said earlier in the day.

Senator John Kennedy told reporters at the Capitol that he believed Mr. Trump's visit was "needed."

"I thought what the president did in visiting the church was not only appropriate, it was needed, it sent a message to the American people that its government is going to protect the innocent," Kennedy said. The church was damaged in a small basement fire set by protesters on Sunday.

A handful of Republicans criticized Mr. Trump's behavior. Senator Ben Sasse released a statement saying he was "against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop." Senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters that "I did not think that what we saw last night was the America that I know."

Mr. Trump's visit to the church was also condemned by Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, who oversees the church and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C. She told "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday that she wasn't informed in advance the president would visit, and called Mr. Trump's photo-op a "symbolic misuse of the most sacred texts of our tradition."

Alan He contributed reporting.

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