'Treason is not a punchline, Mr. President': Jeff Flake slams Trump for calling Democrats 'treasonous'

Zach Gibson/Getty ImagesSen. Jeff Flake
  • Sen. Jeff Flake, a retiring Arizona Republican, slammed President Donald Trump on Tuesday for calling Democrats “treasonous” for not applauding his State of the Union address.
  • The White House said Trump’s comment was a joke.
  • “Treason is not a punchline, Mr. President,” Flake admonished from the Senate floor.

Sen. Jeff Flake, a retiring Arizona Republican and outspoken critic of the president, denounced President Donald Trump’s Monday comment calling Democrats “treasonous” for not applauding during certain parts of his State of the Union address last week.

Amid the immediate firestorm of criticism from both Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill, the White House claimed the president was “clearly joking.”

But Flake argued humour was no excuse.

“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,” Flake said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “But treason is not a punchline, Mr. President.”

During a Monday speech in Ohio, Trump called Democrats who did not stand and clap for him “un-American” and agreed with an audience member who called out that the Democrats were “treasonous” for remaining quiet.

“Honestly, it was bad energy,” Trump said of the stone-faced Democrats, adding, “Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who lost her legs while serving in the military in Iraq, suggested Trump’s remark was un-American and referenced the president’s draft deferments, which he apparently received following a diagnosis of mild bone spurs.

“We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy,” Duckworth tweeted on Monday. “I 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.”

Flake has long been critical of the president, refused to endorse him in the 2016 election, and published a book earlier this year,“Conscience of a Conservative,” in which he excoriated Trump’s “destructive politics.”

Announcing he would not seek reelection last October, Flake delivered a searing 17-minute indictment of the president, whom he called “reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” and his fellow Republicans who remain loyal to the administration.

Watch the clip below:

Allan Smith contributed to this report.

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