A Republican National Committee spokesman said “of course” President-elect Donald Trump knew flag-burning is constitutionally protected speech when he suggested outlawing the practice, but “the vast majority of Americans agree with him, that flag burning should be outlawed.”
RNC communications director Sean Spicer told CNN on Tuesday that in the 1989 Texas v. Johnson Supreme Court ruling on flag burning as free speech “clearly four justices also believed [it] should be illegal.”
Trump had tweeted earlier in the day: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag. If they do, there must be consequences. Perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail!”
Spicer brought up a 2005 bill from then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Flag Protection Act, that carried one-year imprisonment or a $100,000 fine. The legislation did not including revoking citizenship.
“I think that Donald Trump continues to really be at the forefront of what the American people are thinking. And that’s why he won the election, and that’s why people continue to grow and support him, because he’s willing to take on issues like that, speak his voice and really understand where the American people want this country to go,” the RNC spokesman added. There is no recent polling on whether Americans believe there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing flag desecration.
Spicer said Trump is “going to look into” outlawing burning the American flag, “and we’ll figure out the legislative strategy going forward.”
“There are times when, you know, we can override, we can have a constitutional amendment. There are ways to address this in other ways where the legal teams can look at ways to craft something,” he said. “…I know sometimes it confounds people, but Donald Trump really has his pulse on where the American people are.”
Asked why Trump tweeted the statement, Spicer replied, “Because he cares about it. I mean, I don’t think he’s on some scripted timetable.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who voted for Clinton’s flag-burning bill, told reporters that Trump went too far.
“Let me remind you this, we know that Trump tweeted that he feels that someone who burns a flag should lose their citizenship,” Reid said. “I don’t agree with [that]… gone way too far.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said, according to a Roll Call reporter, “It’s a First Amendment right, but you do it in front of me, I’m going to beat the hell out of you.”
Asked about flag burning at Tuesday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “the freedom that we all have to express ourselves in the way that we choose to do so is protected by the United States Constitution.”
“Similar freedoms related to the practice of religion, speech, the institution of journalism, are also enshrined in our constitution and are worth protecting. The need to protect those rights is in place to protect speech and expression not just when we agree with it but also when we find it offensive,” Earnest said.
“Many Americans, the vast majority of Americans, myself included, find the burning of the flag offensive but we have a responsibility as a country to carefully protect our rights that are enshrined in the Constitution,” he continued. “I know this is a bipartisan sentiment. I know that there are conservatives on the Supreme Court that share the view that I’ve just articulated. I know that there are Democrats and Republicans in United States Congress that share the view that I’ve just articulated and it certainly is consistent with the kind of governing agenda that President Obama has pursued here in the White House in his eight years in the Oval Office.”