By Clare Foran, Manu Raju and Ted Barrett, CNN
Republicans returned to Washington on Monday facing a familiar drama that has played out continually in the Trump years: GOP members forced to confront a controversy that they would rather ignore.
After days of silence over former President Donald Trump’s call to terminate the Constitution, several top Republicans have now condemned the comment. But even among those speaking out, few have said it should disqualify Trump from running again for the White House, while many more Hill Republicans have so far remained silent on the issue.
And in a sign of how reluctant most Republicans are to wade into the latest Trump-driven controversy, most were quiet until pressed by reporters for comment after returning to the Capitol on Monday.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told CNN that he disagrees with Trump’s post on his social network Truth Social calling for the “termination of all rules, regulations and articles, even those in the Constitution” to nullify the 2020 election results.
“I swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and it is a bedrock principle — it is the principle, the bedrock of our of our country,” Thune said. “I couldn’t disagree more.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas — a member of GOP leadership — also objected to Trump’s post calling for the termination of the US Constitution.
“I don’t know why anybody would say something like that — certainly not an ex-president,” Cornyn told CNN. “I think it’s irresponsible.”
Many congressional Republicans, however, have not yet weighed in on Trump’s comments, even as a growing number are now starting to react critically.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has been silent on the remarks, while Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said that he will address Trump’s Constitution comments on Tuesday at his weekly news conference following the regularly scheduled Senate policy lunches.
GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia called Trump’s comments “ridiculous,” while retiring GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri dismissed them, saying, “I was standing 10 feet from him when he took the oath of office and there was no emergency clause not to follow the Constitution.”
GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska tweeted on Sunday, “Suggesting the termination of the Constitution is not only a betrayal of our Oath of Office, it’s an affront to our Republic.” Murkowski was one of seven Republican senators who joined with Democrats in voting to convict Trump at the conclusion of his second impeachment trial.
And Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said in a statement posted to Twitter responding to the former president’s comments, “Anyone who desires to lead our country must commit to protecting the Constitution. They should not threaten to terminate it.”
But even among GOP critics, few are going so far as to say the remarks should prevent Trump from running again for the White House.
Thune stopped short when asked if it disqualifies him from being president again, saying instead it will become fodder for any candidate who decides to challenge him.
“It’s going to be the grist of the campaign,” Thune said. “If you’re one of these other people who’s interested in running this year, this is certainly an opportunity that would create some contrast. He’s the only announced candidate so far.”
Thune added: “He’s going to say what he’s going to say. I don’t think anybody’s going to control that, but I do think if you’re one of the other candidates, this is a golden opportunity.”
Cornyn similarly would not say if the comments were disqualifying, saying they were “certainly irresponsible.”
GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said, “I believe in the Constitution,” but, when asked by CNN if he believes they’re disqualifying comments, said, “I think the voters get to decide those things.”
The White House, meanwhile, has wasted little time condemning Trump’s call for the “termination” of the Constitution. And now President Joe Biden’s aides are ramping up pressure on congressional Republicans to do the same.
“Every President and every member of Congress swears to ‘defend’ the Constitution of the United States,” said White House spokesperson Andrew Bates. “Asking members of Congress to reaffirm their oath of office and uphold the Constitution should not be a heavy lift. Congressional Republicans need to do that immediately, instead of repeatedly refusing to answer the most basic question.”
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CNN’s Morgan Rimmer, Phil Mattingly and Kristin Holmes contributed to this report.