By EILEEN SULLIVAN
WASHINGTON – Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., took to the Senate floor Wednesday to castigate President Donald Trump for his “assaults” on U.S. media and to compare the president’s words to those of a former Soviet dictator who slaughtered millions of his own citizens in a reign of terror.
“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies,” Flake said, referring to the former Soviet dictator who regularly used the phrase, “enemy of the people,” which Trump has borrowed.
“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,” Flake said.
Flake had promised to speak out against Trump’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior when he announced in October that he would retire at the end of the year. True to his word, Flake delivered his remarks on the day the president had said on Twitter that he would issue “Fake News Awards,” to “the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media.”
As of late Wednesday morning, there was nothing on the president’s public schedule for such an event. Trump had initially scheduled these awards for earlier this month, but announced in a Twitter post that they would be postponed.
Flake and the president have not disguised their dislike of one another. Flake has been a target of the president’s tweets and has written a book denouncing Trump. He is among a small group of Republican senators that has criticized the president, with others including Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is also retiring, and John McCain of Arizona, who is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post on Tuesday, McCain joined his fellow Arizonan in calling for the president to stop attacking the news media, and he encouraged Congress to embrace a free press in ways Trump won’t.
“We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression,” McCain wrote.
Both Flake and McCain warned that the president’s sustained attacks on U.S. news media put journalists around the world in danger and set a poor example for countries led by authoritarians and dictators.
“No longer can we turn a blind eye or deaf ear to those assaults on our institutions and, Mr. President, 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,” Flake said. “And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to that danger.”