Voices: Republicans choose their words carefully on Tyre Nichols

File Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is surrounded by reporters as he arrives at the historic Old Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Washington (AP)
File Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is surrounded by reporters as he arrives at the historic Old Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Washington (AP)

The video of Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols which resulted in his death landed on Friday evening after much of Congress had already left Washington.

That didn’t stop most Democrats, including President Joe Biden, from releasing statements denouncing the deadly assault.

But Republicans treaded far more carefully. The party has long billed itself as the party of “law and order” and supported law enforcement against accusations that they unfairly profile people of color. They’ve also pilloried Democrats for supposedly letting crime run amok in large cities.

As of Monday, neither Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell nor House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have put out a statement about it. On Sunday, Mr McCarthy conducted an interview with Face the Nation on CBS, but host Margaret Brennan did not ask him about it.

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan similarly appeared on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd and decried what he called the “the lack of respect for human life.” But Mr Jordan, who has often been one of the most aggressive GOP attack dogs, added: “I don’t know that any law, any training, any reform is going to change, you know, that this man was handcuffed, they continued to beat him.”

Tennessee’s two Republican Senators, Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, both put out statements, with Ms Blackburn calling the videos “difficult to watch” but adding that she was “confident the Memphis Police Department and State of Tennessee will conduct a thorough investigation.” Mr Hagerty said he was “deeply disturbed” by the video and spoke to the “unimaginable grief” the Nichols family experienced. Elsewhere, Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska called the officers’ beating “reprehensible and senseless.”

Conversely, Senator Mitt Romney, who participated in a Black Lives Matter march after the killing of George Floyd, said he could not bring himself to watch the video of what he called a “brutal beating.”

Senator Tim Scott, the only Black Republican Senator who is weighing a presidential run, delivered perhaps the most vociferous criticism, saying it was a “clear, vile abuse of power.” Notably, the South Carolina Republican and Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey had attempted to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in 2021, but negotiations ultimately failed.

The statements from the Republicans who have spoken show that they clearly know the video is disturbing. But the rhetoric they use show that they likely hope to treat this as an isolated incident and likely won’t spring into action on it.