Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor to shame his fellow Republicans for failing to speak out against President Trump after he accused Democrats of “treason” for not applauding him enough during the State of the Union, saying Trump’s remarks are “not normal.”
“One who levels such a charge knows neither the meaning of treason nor the power that the words of a president carry. … Our silence will also mark the day that we failed to recognize that this conduct in an American president is simply not normal,” Flake said.
“I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue-in-cheek, but treason is not a punch line,” he continued.
He added that our “Democratic colleagues love this country as much as we do. To suggest otherwise is simply unconscionable.”
Trump said Monday that Democrats were “un-American” for sitting in silence during his speech last week, adding: “Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess. Why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.”
“Treason is not a punchline, Mr. President”: GOP Sen. Jeff Flake slams President Trump for referring to Democrats who didn’t clap for him at the State of the Union address as “treasonous” https://t.co/yHBkkgekv5 pic.twitter.com/y6ith3XpX5
— CNN (@CNN) February 6, 2018
Partial transcript as follows:
Mr. President, last fall I had the honor to stand in this chamber and deliver remarks on the subject of a great and growing concern to me, the stewardship of our democracy at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. I stand again today to sound the same alarm. Mr. President, words matter. Have we arrived at such a place of numb acceptance that we have nothing to say when a president of the United States casually suggests that those who choose not to stand or applaud his speech are guilty of treason? I certainly hope not. One who levels such a charge knows neither the meaning of treason nor the power that the words of a president carry. And if we are numb to such words, then we will surely regret that we failed to defend our colleagues in the Congress against such a vile remark. Our silence will also mark the day that we failed to recognize that this conduct in an American president simply is not normal.
I wish I could stand here today and say that my words of last October have been proven wrong, that I had been unfair to inveigh against the daily sundry of our country, that I had been mistaken about the personal attacks that I had exaggerated the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations most often for the most personal reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve. I wish I could say that I had been wrong but I cannot. I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek, but treason is not a punch line, Mr. President.
The president said that the State of the Union address was meant to promote and encourage unity in government. Then why follow up less than a week later with this divisive and harmful rhetoric? Unity is not secured in a speech. It must be pursued constantly through appropriate behavior, mutual respect, and gained by effective leadership. Mr. President, respect is earned, not commanded. Applause signals approval of an idea, not loyalty to one’s country. Our democratic colleagues love this country as much as we do. To suggest otherwise is simply unconscionable. None of us in Congress pledge loyalty or service to the president. This is not a royal court.
Our oath is to the Constitution and to the people. As members of Congress, we must never accept undignified discourse as normal because of the requirements of tribal party politics. None of this behavior should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now. We will get through this period. And when we do, we will look back at the destruction of our discourse and the attacks on our democratic values as nothing but a tragedy. May we also be able to say that they were an aberration, but that, my colleagues, is up to us. We must recognize that this is aberrant, destructive behavior, whatever rationale its defenders may offer. And we must never shrink from opposing it for it is in the opposing this behavior that we defend our norms, our ideals, and our values. It is in opposing this behavior that we stand for decency. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.