An offhand trolling comment by President Trump about Democratic behavior during the State of the Union address prompted tirades Tuesday from Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans — and led the White House to say it didn’t care.
Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said Mr. Trump clearly doesn’t understand the meaning of treason after suggesting Democrats committed it not clapping for his State of the Union address.
“One who levels such a charge knows neither the meaning of treason nor the power that the words of a president carry,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Democrats were less diplomatic.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who lost both legs in the Iraq war in 2004, tweeted that she “swore an oath — in the military and in the Senate — to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.”
Mr. Trump used the T-word during a speech in Ohio on Monday about how Democrats stayed silent and never applauded at last week’s speech, even at achievements one would think they’d back — such as lower black and Hispanic unemployment.
“They would rather see Trump do badly, OK, than our country do well,” he said.
“They were like death, and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess. Why not?” Mr. Trump said, prompting laughter. “Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.”
Mr. Flake wasn’t laughing, calling on his Republican colleagues to stand up for those on the other side of the aisle.
“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,” he 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,” the Arizona Republican said. “But treason is not a punchline, Mr. President.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had a blunt reply Tuesday.
“I don’t really care what Sen. Flake has to say, I don’t think his constituents do either and I think that’s why his numbers are in the tank,” Mrs. Sanders said.
Mrs. Sanders also said the president was “clearly joking” with his comments about Democrats.
“But what isn’t a joke is that Democrats refuse to celebrate the accomplishments of last year that has helped all Americans,” she said.
Conservative columnist Dan McLaughlin at National Review half-defended the remarks, calling them boorish comic schtick but not worth the liberal reaction.
“If you watch the actual video, you can see the flippancy here. Trump is plainly not being serious about treason — he’s playing this for laughs, and getting them,” he wrote Tuesday. “Liberals going to DEFCON 1 as if he is are yet again proving how little interest they have in distinguishing between tyranny and mere boorishness. The loss of perspective is just wearying to watch at this point.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said it was Mr. Trump and his defenders who had no perspective, saying their actions in the White House are already treasonous.
“Treason is not a laughing matter. It is a serious crime embedded in the constitution, punishable by death,” the New York Democrat said on the House floor.
He then launched into a tirade about the ongoing Russia investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign and pointed to charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation last year.
“Is it treason for a presidential campaign to meet with a hostile foreign power to sell out our democracy and rig the election? Is it treason for your former national security adviser to be a Russian asset sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin? How dare you lecture us about treason,” Mr. Jeffries exclaimed.
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