WASHINGTON (AFP) - A senator from Donald Trump’s Republican Party unleashed a powerful attack on the US leader on Tuesday (Oct 24) as he announced he would not seek re-election for fear of being “complicit” with a “reckless” presidency.
Jeff Flake, of Arizona, assailed Trump in a bombshell 17-minute speech on the Senate floor, hours after the President made what was meant to be a bridge-building trip to the Capitol to drum up support for his tax reform plans.
His extraordinary address came hours after a Republican colleague, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, stepped up his all-out war of words with Trump, calling him an “utterly untruthful” leader who “debases” the nation.
Flake, who has served in the Senate since 2013 and has been an outspoken critic of Trump-era politics, displayed visible emotion, his voice repeatedly breaking, as he announced he would not run for office again next year.
“The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency – the provocation for the most petty reasons... none of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal,” said the 54-year-old.
“We must stop pretending that the degradation of politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal,” Flake warned. “Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior is excused as telling it like it is when it’s actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.”
Flake blasted Trump for his unfettered tweeting, and attacked fellow Republicans for keeping quiet as “the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters.”
“Politics can make us silent when we should speak and silence can equal complicity,” added the senator.
“I have children and grandchildren to answer to.... I will not be complicit or silent.... I am announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019.”
Tuesday was supposed to be a good day for the often-strained relations between Trump and his party.
The President paid a rare visit to Capitol Hill to attend the Senate Republican caucus lunch for the first time since his inauguration, to rally support for passing a package of tax cuts before year’s end.
But the focus swerved instead to a brutal back-and-forth between Trump and Corker, the influential chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has excoriated the President as dangerously impulsive and branded the White House an “adult day-care centre.”
When Corker early on Tuesday urged the President to stand clear of the tax debate and “leave it to the professionals” – Trump rounded on him in a series of tweets, and the war of words was on.
“Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran Deal & couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee, is now fighting Tax Cuts,” Trump tweeted.
“Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president,” shot back Corker, who voted against the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme because he believed it was too weak.
“I don’t know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in the way that he does, but he does,” Corker – who like Flake is not seeking re-election next year – went on to tell reporters, voicing regret for supporting Trump’s presidential bid.
In the past week, Trump has been harshly criticised by two high-profile Republicans: former president George W. Bush, who said “bigotry seems emboldened” in the Trump era, and Senator John McCain, a former war hero and 2000 presidential nominee, who issued a searing rebuke to Trump’s ideas and politics.
Trump’s feud with Corker has further exposed the tensions between the President and some in his party on Capitol Hill, where the President has yet to grab a major legislative victory.
Flake and Corker have been Trump’s two most vocal Republican critics in the Senate, along with McCain, Flake’s senior colleague from Arizona who was diagnosed with brain cancer in July.
Immediately after Flake’s speech, McCain praised him for his “honour,” "brilliance” and “patriotism.”
“I have seen Jeff Flake stand up for what he believes in, knowing full well that there would be a political price to pay,” McCain said.
Trump has previously attacked Flake as “weak” and “ineffective” and has derided Corker’s height while labelling him “incompetent.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to their twin attack on Trump by saying voters would likely not have supported either senator were they to have run again.
“The voters of these individual senators’ states are speaking in pretty loud volumes. I think that they were not likely to be re-elected and I think that that shows that the support is more behind this president than it is those two individuals,” she said.