Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said that President Donald Trump has “flirted” with white supremacists, “kisses dictators’ butts” and also criticized the way that the president treats women in an audio recording obtained by The Washington Examiner.
The comments that Sasse made were part of a nine-minute response the Republican senator gave when asked about his relationship with and criticism of Trump. According to the magazine, the audio was taken from a private call between Sasse and some of his constituents.
Sasse began his response by saying he worked hard to establish a working relationship with the president but reminded his listeners that he campaigned for other Republican presidential candidates before Trump became the party’s nominee in 2016. During the first two minutes of his answer, he said there were some issues on which he agreed with Trump, including efforts to appoint conservative federal judges. The Senate has already approved more than 200 of Trump’s judicial appointments, and the president has said he aspires to have at least 300 approved by the end of his first term in office.
Sasse spent the other seven minutes of his answer listing the policy positions on which he disagrees with Trump and explaining why Trump’s leadership concerns him about the future of the Republican Party, the Senate and the country as a whole. Sasse started by addressing the foreign policy problems he had with Trump, which he said included the way Trump “kisses dictators’ butts” and addressed neither the Uighur detention camps in China nor the plight of protesters in Hong Kong.
“It isn’t just that he fails to lead our allies, it’s that the United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership,” Sasse said.
The senator went on to list other issues he said he had with Trump: “The way he treats women and spends like a drunken sailor. The ways I criticized President [Barack] Obama for that kind of spending, I criticize President Trump for, as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.” Sasse also mentioned the coronavirus pandemic, which he said Trump initially did not take seriously and added that Trump “careens from curb to curb” in his administration’s pandemic response.
Sasse said he expected some of his constituents to disagree with his views on the president—Trump won Nebraska by 25 points in 2016, according to election results compiled by The New York Times—but he said he has spoken with some Nebraskans who voiced concerns about Trump’s time in office. “They don’t really want more rage-tweeting,” he said.
Sasse concluded his answer to the question by stepping back from his problems with Trump and expressing a wider concern about the Republican Party, which he repeatedly referred to as “the party of Lincoln and Reagan.”
“If young people become permanent Democrats because they’ve just been repulsed by the obsessive nature of our politics, or if women who were willing to still vote with the Republican Party in 2016 decide that they need to turn away from this party permanently in the future, the debate is not going to be ‘Ben Sasse, why were you so mean to Donald Trump?’ It’s going to be, ‘What the heck were any of us thinking that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?’ It is not a good idea,” he said, adding, “I think we are staring down the barrel of a blue tsunami.”
In a statement shared with the Examiner, a spokesperson for Sasse’s office reiterated the concern the senator expressed in the audio recording about the balance of power heading into the 2020 election.
“I don’t know how many more times we can shout this: Even though the Beltway is obsessing exclusively about the presidential race, control of the Senate is ten times more important,” spokesman James Wegmann told the magazine. “The fragile Senate seats that will determine whether Democrats nuke the Senate are the races Ben cares about, the races he’s working on, and the only races he’s talking about.”
Sasse, who began representing Nebraska in the Senate in 2015, has grown increasingly critical of Trump as the presidential election has drawn closer. After peaceful protesters were forcibly removed from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., in June, Sasse criticized the move and Trump’s following pose with a Bible outside the nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church. “I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop,” Sasse said in a statement about the incident to the Omaha World-Herald. Later that month, he demanded answers about a New York Times report that Russia placed bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. “Did the commander in chief know and, if not, how the hell not? What is going on in our process,” Sasse said to reporters.
In August, Sasse issued a statement criticizing Trump’s decision to sign executive orders that were intended to provide assistance to Americans during the pandemic. “The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop,” Sasse said. “President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law. Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the American people acting through their members of Congress.”
Sasse’s criticism in August caught the attention of the president, who referred to Sasse as a RINO–or “Republican in name only—in a tweet a couple of days later. “RINO Ben Sasse, who needed my support and endorsement in order to get the Republican nomination for Senate from the GREAT State of Nebraska, has, now that he’s got it (Thank you President T), gone rogue, again. This foolishness plays right into the hands of the Radical Left Dems,” Trump’s tweet said.
Newsweek reached out to the White House and Sasse’s office for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.