GOP Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) blasted President Trump’s “shameful” and “unprecedented” attacks on the press from the Senate floor on Wednesday, comparing him to Stalin while calling on his colleagues in Congress to publicly push back against the dangerous, authoritarian rhetoric.
“The enemy of the people was how the president of the United States called the free press in 2017. … It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president used words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies,” said Flake, who is retiring at the end of his term.
Trump’s comments “should be the source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party, for they are shameful, repulsive statements, and of course the president has it precisely backwards,” he added.
The Hill added:
Flake’s speech marks one of the strongest Republican rebukes of Trump from the Senate floor. The Arizona senator has emerged as one of the loudest Republican critics of Trump since he started his presidential campaign in 2015. The feuds with Trump appear to have hurt Flake with GOP primary voters in his state, however.
GOP lawmakers, while frequently caught off guard by Trump’s statements, have also argued that reporters should focus on what the president does, not what he says.
But Flake added that the Trump administration put “alternative facts into the American lexicon” to justify “old-fashioned falsehoods.”
“When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him fake news, it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press,” he said.
Flake called Trump’s “Fake News Award” a “spectacle,” adding that Congress cannot continue to give “silent acquiescence” to Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric.
“An American president who cannot take criticism, who must constantly deflect and distort and distract, who must find someone else to blame is charting a very dangerous path, and a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to that danger,” he said.
Only Democratic senators attended Flake’s speech.
Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.) spoke in support of the speech after Flake was finished.
“I rise today to thank my colleague, Senator Flake, for his words and to join him in standing up for the First Amendment,” Klobuchar said.
Durbin added that “we are facing an attack on an American institution, an attack on our freedom of press.”
However, Kelly Ward, who is running to succeed Flake, blasted his anti-Trump speech.
“Jeff Flake’s comparison of President Trump to the brutal dictator Joseph Stalin on the floor of the United States Senate was appalling and an embarrassment to the state of Arizona,” Ward said in a statement.
“Arizona voters deserve representation in the U.S. Senate that, regardless of political differences, will never engage in this type of troubling rhetoric,” Ward said. “I call on all the candidates in the race to replace him in the Senate to join me in publicly condemning his remark.”
The White House also criticized Flake over the speech.
“I found it quite interesting that he is coming out to attack this president considering he is one who was recently defending an actually oppressive regime,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “He went to Cuba a few weeks ago and served as a mouthpiece for the oppressive Cuban government. He is not criticizing the president because he is against oppression, he is criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers and he is, I think, looking for some attention.”
Flake also called out the president for engaging in a series of “untruths” and “pernicious fantasies,” e.g. birtherism, voter fraud, and “perhaps the most vexing untruth of all,” trying to undermine the Russia probe and U.S. intel findings.
“To be very clear, to call the Russian matter a hoax, as President Trump has done so many times, is a falsehood,” Flake added.
— TIME (@TIME) January 17, 2018