Republican senator compares Donald Trump to Stalin
Jeff Flake in blistering attack on president’s attitude to media as party tensions simmer
Two Republican senators strongly criticised US president Donald Trump on Wednesday, a sign of continuing tensions within the party over the president’s leadership as it works to secure a budget deal to avoid a government shutdown on Friday.
Senator Jeff Flake, who announced last year that he would not be contesting this year’s mid-term elections, launched a blistering attack against Mr Trump from the Senate floor, comparing the US president to Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.
“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies,” Mr Flake said. “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.”
His damning comments followed a similar speech in the Senate in November when he announced he would not be running.
Fellow Republican senator John McCain, who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer, also criticised the president in a Washington Post article, urging him to “stop attacking the press”.
Noting that the term “fake news” was “being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens”, he said the Trump administration’s attitude towards the press was “inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst”.
“He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing ‘fake news awards’ upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with,” Mr McCain wrote in the op-ed article. “Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.”
Mr Trump tweeted earlier this month that he planned to hold “fake news awards” this month, but no such event has yet been scheduled.
‘Bad poll numbers’
Queried about Mr Flake’s comments, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the reason the Arizona senator was criticising the president was because of his bad poll numbers. She added: “It is quite interesting that he is coming out to attack the president considering that he is one that was recently defending an actual oppressive regime – he went to Cuba a few weeks ago.”
Meanwhile, negotiations continued on Capitol Hill in a bid to agree a short-term funding measure to avoid a government shutdown at midnight on Friday, though it appeared increasingly unlikely that an agreement on Daca – the programme that gives protection to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children – would be included.
With Republicans compiling a possible package, Democrats may choose to vote against it, with the result that Republicans need all members of their party to be on board. Some conservative members of the party have threatened to block the Bill if their demands on immigration are not included, while others are worried that an increase in defence spending has not yet been sanctioned.
White House chief of staff John Kelly, who is understood to hold a tough line on immigration, visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday as discussions continued.
A vote could take place as early as Thursday evening in a bid to avoid a shutdown. If passed, this would be the fourth short-term spending Bill Congress has passed as it struggles to find a more long-term budgetary framework.
Speaking to reporters, Ms Huckabee Sanders said the president wanted a budget deal, but accused the Democrats of “holding the military and national security hostage” in order to secure their own priorities.
“Democrats need to decide [to] come here to do their jobs,” she said, and put national security over their own political agenda.