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Flake on Trump's Slam of Non-Applauding Dems: 'Treason is Not a Punchline'

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) talks with Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) prior to the arrival of President Trump at his first State of the Union address Jan. 30, 2018. (Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) today slammed President Trump for branding “treasonous” Democrats who didn’t applaud during his first State of the Union address, arguing it was again time to “sound the alarm” over the president’s words.

At an event Monday at the Sheffer Corporation in Blue Ash, Ohio, Trump said Democratic lawmakers were trying to “play games” during his speech, like “don’t even make a facial movement.”

“You’re up there, you’ve got half the room going totally crazy, wild — they loved everything, they want to do something great for our country. And you have the other side, even on positive news — really positive news, like that — they were like death and un-American. Un-American,” he said. “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 very much.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters today that “the president was clearly joking.”

Pressed on what counts as un-American, in an annual address where the opposing party traditionally does not cheer the president’s policy points, Sanders said it was “un-American not to be excited about the fact that more people in this country have jobs.”

Flake didn’t see it that way, and took to the Senate floor to ask, “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 sincerely hope not.”

“One who levels such a charge knows neither the meaning of treason nor the power that the words of a president carry,” the senator said. “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, but our silence will also mark the day that we failed to recognize that this conduct in an American president simply is not normal.”

Flake acknowledged that Trump’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 punchline, Mr. President.”

“…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, and to suggest otherwise is 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.”

Flake predicted “we will get through this period and when we do, we will look back on 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,” he added. “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 opposing this behavior that we defend our norms, our ideals and our values. It is in opposing this behavior that we stand for decency.”

Sanders told reporters she wouldn’t respond to the floor speech, as “I don’t really care what Sen. Flake has to say.”