FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) listens to testimony during the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response, in Washington, U.S., May 12, 2020. Toni L. Sandys/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski said on Thursday she is struggling to decide whether she can support President Donald Trump’s re-election bid, saying criticism of Trump’s response to nationwide protests by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis rang true.

Asked if she supported Trump, who faces the nation’s voters again in November, Murkowski said, “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.”

“He is our duly elected president. I will continue to work with him … but I think right now as we are all struggling to find ways to express the words that need to be expressed appropriately,” Murkowski told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Murkowski, who did not support Trump in 2016, praised the comments by former Pentagon chief Mattis, who accused Trump on Wednesday of trying to divide America and roundly denounced a militarization of the U.S. response to civil unrest.

“I was really thankful. I thought General Mattis’ words were true, and honest, and necessary and overdue,” Murkowski said.

Another Republican, Senator Mitt Romney, also praised Mattis, saying his words were “stunning and powerful.” But while several other Republican senators said they respected Mattis, they shrugged at his criticisms.

The retired Marine general was Trump’s first defense secretary but resigned over policy differences in 2018.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham acknowledged that Trump “can be a handful” and can “do better,” but said Trump had been unfairly targeted throughout his presidency and dismissed Mattis’ rebuke.

“To General Mattis … you’re missing the fact that the liberal media has taken every event in the last three and half years and laid it at the president’s feet,” Graham told Fox News. “I’m not saying he’s blameless, but I am saying that you’re buying into a narrative that I think is quite frankly unfair.”

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; writing by Susan Heavey; editing by Tim Ahmann and Cynthia Osterman

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