Republican senators respond with disbelief to Trump’s conspiracy theory about police shoving elderly man

Mitch McConnell (right) declined to issue a verdict on the president's embrace of a baseless conspiracy theory: AP

Several Republican senators have shown their dismay afer Donald Trump used Twitter to propagate a conspiracy theory over an elderly man pushed violently to the ground by police in Buffalo, New York.

Traipsing past a gaggle of reporters outside a Republican lunch, a troop of senators were asked one after the other to comment on the president's tweet, which referenced a theory floated by far-right news network OANN that the man assaulted by an officer was trying to “scan police communications” and “fell harder than was pushed”.

Longtime Trump critic Mitt Romney, who joined a Black Lives Matter protest over the weekend, was unimpressed. “I saw the tweet,” he said. “It was a shocking thing to say, and I won’t dignify it with any further comment.”

More aghast still was Lisa Murkowski, a moderate senator from Alaska who recently said she was “struggling” with whether to vote for Mr Trump, leading him to demand she be challenged in her primary in 2022. “Oh lord,” she said. “Ugh. Again, why would you fan the flames?” Then, walking away from reporters, “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Other Republicans, however, gave more measured responses – or none at all.

Confronted by CNN’s Manu Raju, Pat Roberts of Kansas told him “I haven’t even read the damn thing. I don’t want to hear it.” When Mr Raju said he had the tweet on hand for Mr Roberts to read, the senator said “I know” and walked off.

“I didn’t see it,” replied Marco Rubio when asked. “You’re telling me about it. I don’t read Twitter. I only write on it.” John Cornyn simply offered that “a lot of this stuff just goes over my head”, while Lamar Alexander said “Voters can evaluate that. I’m not going to give a running commentary on the President’s tweets.”

And majority leader Mitch McConnell, when asked twice about the tweet, dodged the matter entirely, simply saying his party is working on new law enforcement legislation.

The reaction was more vocal and more caustic on the other side of the aisle. Democratic senate leader Chuck Schumer called the allegation “baseless” and said the president should return to his bunker, which he visited during protests outside the White House (he has since claimed he went to “inspect” it).

Senator Chris Murphy, meanwhile, held up the tweet as evidence Mr Trump is “unfit to lead this nation”, then claimed the conspiracy theory appears to have emanated from a Russian source, spelling trouble for the election to come.

Presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted his own response, accusing the president of abusing his power just as the officer who pushed the man to the ground did. And at a press conference in New York, governor Andrew Cuomo demanded that Mr Trump apologise for his message.

“How reckless, how irresponsible, how mean, how crude … At this moment of anguish and anger, what does he do? Pour gasoline on the fire. Show some decency. Show some humanity. Show some fairness. You’re the president of the United States.”