Ben Sasse’s last name has a silent “e,” but Twitter users can be forgiven for thinking the Nebraska Republican’s name is pronounced “sassy.” The adjective is an accurate description of the Sasse on the popular social media platform. Sasse most recently turned his sharp retorts toward President Trump after the president launched into what can only be described as a series of attacks on the First Amendment freedom of the press.
While attacking “fake news” has proven a popular shtick for the president, he reached a new level on Tuesday with a tweet that suggested that NBC News’ license should be “challenged” on the basis of their report that Trump had said that he wanted to increase the US nuclear weapons arsenal by a factor of 10 in a July meeting. The meeting prompted Secretary of State Tillerson to allegedly call the president a “f—ing moron.”
With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
On a day when the sitting president of the United States directly attacked the First Amendment, the response from Republican officials was underwhelming. While Republicans lined up to denounce NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem, it was extremely difficult to find anyone in the GOP who was willing to go on record criticizing Trump’s statements. A piece in The Hill describing the backlash fails to cite a single sitting Republican. In fact, there seemed to be only one Republican responding to the president’s shocking remarks, the sassy Sasse.
It has only been a few weeks since Sasse wowed the non-alternative-right with his Twitter takedown of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. The viral series of tweets brought adulation from traditional conservatives who felt left behind by the new Republican Party and the lack of condemnation for race-baiters like Spencer, who was an organizer of the riotous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Given his history of using Twitter to communicate a strong conservative and pro-freedom message effectively, it should be no surprise that Sasse was the one to put the president’s remarks into constitutional perspective.
“Mr. President,” Sasse tweeted, “Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?”
Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment? pic.twitter.com/XLB7QXM3bQ
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) October 12, 2017
The tweet also contained a somewhat longer statement released by Senator Sasse. The full statement reads, “Mr. President: Words spoken by the President of the United States matter. Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect and defend the First Amendment?”
Trump did not respond directly to Sasse, but later in the day, the president doubled down on his attack on the freedom of the press, saying in a White House press conference, “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.”
Another tweet from the president on Tuesday night was even more specific. “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!” the man sworn to defend the Constitution said.
Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
As a refresher, the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” The Bill of Rights makes no exception for “fake news,” biased reporting or even outright lies.
FCC rules do “prohibit holders of broadcast licenses from broadcasting false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe if the licensee knows the information is false; and the licensee knows beforehand that broadcasting the information will cause substantial ‘public harm.’” Stories critical of President Trump would not fall under this category.
As the president becomes increasingly bold in his attacks on the First Amendment, the big question for conservatives is where the other defenders of the Constitution are. The silence from other Republicans is deafening.