Maine’s Democratic U.S. 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree reacted harshly Tuesday to escalating rhetoric from President Trump and his threat to use the military against those protesting the death of George Floyd.

The Democratic congresswoman from North Haven was joined in her criticism by the three other members of Maine’s congressional delegation, who said the president had gone too far and was not acting to unify and heal the nation.

Clockwise from top left: Sen. Angus King, Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Jared Golden and Rep. Chellie Pingree

Pingree said Trump committed “a stunning abuse of power” when he authorized military troops to clear a path using rubber bullets and tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the White House so he could pose before a nearby church with a Bible.

“That it was done so Mr. Trump could have a photo-op across the street in front of a church while holding a religious text as a prop was disgraceful beyond measure,” Pingree said. “It was a shameful moment for our nation I won’t soon forget.”

She also said if Trump uses military force to end the protests, as he has threatened to do, it would only exacerbate them.

“Sending tanks and soldiers into American cities and towns is absolutely unacceptable,” she said. “The President may believe that doing so would project strength, but it would do the exact opposite and amplify a terrifying message of lawlessness to our nation. The streets of Portland, Lewiston, and Bangor are not a war zone. State and local governments can and must manage our own communities.”

Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, also were critical of Trump.

King was the first in the delegation to react to Trump’s actions, issuing a series of tweets Monday night.

“There are many things wrong about the president’s actions this afternoon – his lack of appreciation of the deep and legitimate grievance of black people after the killing of George Floyd and thousands of others over the years, the gratuitous mention of the Second Amendment,” King tweeted ” … the threat to deploy federal troops on U.S. soil against U.S. citizens, among others – and finally, his callous use of a church and the Christian Bible as props in a political stunt which demeaned people of faith, degraded the office of the presidency, and insulted the American people.”

CNN’s Lauren Fox also spoke with Collins on Monday and in a series of tweets quoted Collins as saying: “It was painful to watch peaceful protesters be subjected to tear gas in order for the President to go across the street to a church I believe he’s attended only once.”

In a statement from her office Tuesday, Collins said she didn’t believe Trump’s use of force against the protesters was justified.

“As Americans, we all need to frankly acknowledge and work to resolve our longstanding, ongoing struggles with racial inequality,” Collins said. “It is at times like this that a President needs to speak to the Nation, to pledge to right wrongs, and to calm inflamed passions.  The President should help to heal the racial divisions in this country. The event at the church didn’t advance that effort.”

Democratic Rep. Jared Golden responded to questions from the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday evening, saying, “There is a constitutional right to protest and it is unacceptable to use force to clear out peaceful protesters, especially to assist a political stunt. These were peaceful protests and the decision to use military and police forces to move them showed weakness rather than strength, and demonstrated a lack of judgment and leadership. It was an abuse of power.”

Asked if it is appropriate for the president to invoke a federal law that allows him to use the military to put down riots and protests around the country, Golden said, “The president should be very careful about deploying federal military forces on American soil without the consent of the governed. He is walking a dangerous line between the rights of constitutionally protected protestors and his desire to crack down on unlawful rioters who are taking advantage of the situation. He clearly misjudged that line yesterday in the nation’s capital.”

Golden is a Marine Corps combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trump’s actions and words came the same day a dust-up between Trump and Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, developed over Trump’s plan to visit a manufacturing plant in Guilford  that makes medical swabs, used to test for the coronavirus.

Regarding Trump’s announced plan to visit Maine, Golden said, “The hard-working men and women at Puritan (Medical) deserve recognition for the important contribution they are making to the national response to the coronavirus. What they are doing is critically important to expand our testing capacity across the country and I am glad that the President is acknowledging their hard work.”

Mills expressed her concerns to Trump that his visit to Maine would only incite additional protests and possibly bring violence to the state, which had so far avoided that reaction. Thousands of Mainers have joined in protests in Portland and other Maine cities in the days since video emerged of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the back of a black man’s neck for nine minutes while he was handcuffed and face down on the ground.

Floyd was killed in the incident and the officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder.

King, the independent senator and a former Maine governor, sided with Mills in a statement issued by his communications director Tuesday.

“Right now, our state and nation are in a fragile moment, which must be handled carefully,” King said. “Gov. Mills was elected by the people of Maine to manage these situations, and if she believes the President’s trip (while normally welcomed) would either hinder our state’s gradual, science-based reopening plan or inflame tensions at what have been peaceful protests, I respect her judgment.”

Collins said the destructive and violent actions by protesters should not be condoned, but it was preferable that state and local authorities handle those situations instead of the military.

“We cannot allow the destruction of property, rioting, and looting, but neither can that distract us from truly confronting the underlying racial problems that we have in this country,” she said.

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