Sen. Ben Sasse: Trump was being ‘playful’ in praising congressman’s assault of reporter
President Donald Trump, speaking at a rally in Montana, praised Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte who body slammed a reporter last year, saying the lawmaker was "my guy."
President Donald Trump was being “playful” when he celebrated a congressman’s 2017 assault of a reporter, Sen. Ben Sasse said Sunday – but he added that he did not think the rhetoric was “OK.”
The Nebraska Republican, who calls for an end to America’s partisan divide in his new book, “Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How to Heal,” was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper about Trump’s praise of Rep. Greg Gianforte – the Montana Republican who assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs – during a political rally last week.
Sasse said he doesn’t “follow the rallies closely,” but “I believe that the First Amendment is the beating heart of the American experiment. So, we need to have a president who celebrates the First Amendment and not pretends that beating up a reporter is OK.”
But Sasse told CNN that many people “tune out most of the rallies” and feel that “the president’s rhetoric is kind of short-term playful.”
“I don’t think it’s OK, but I do think most people tune most of it out,” Sasse said. “I think what we need to be having a conversation about is the long term of how does the next generation understand the American experiment, because right now we don’t have much shared sense of what it is.”
“But, it’s not playful to joke about assault, is it?” Tapper asked.
“No,” Sasse replied. “Not if the guy was convicted of a crime.”
He repeated that it “is not OK,” but added that “I do think it’s sort of baked into the president’s stock price.”
“Some think it’s funny, some are really anxious about it, but most people just think, ‘Well, that’s kinda how the president talks.’ We need to do better than that, but I also think there’s a danger in pretending each new rally is immediate, urgent,” he said.
At a rally in Montana last week, Trump said, “Any guy that can do a body slam – he’s my guy.” The president then pantomimed slamming someone to the ground before a cheering crowd.
In May 2017, Gianforte, then a congressional candidate for Montana’s at-large district, slammed Jacobs to the ground – breaking Jacobs’ glasses and injuring his elbow – when the reporter tried to ask him a question about health care policy. Gianforte, who initially told police that Jacobs was the aggressor, eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. Despite the incident, he went on to win the special election.
Gianforte was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, an anger management course and a fine. As part of a civil settlement, he wrote a letter of apology to Jacobs and gave $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful,” Gianforte’s letter to Jacobs said. “As both a candidate for office and a public official, I should be held to a high standard in my interactions with the press and the public. My treatment of you did not meet that standard.
Trump has long held an antagonistic view of the news media, and has called the press the “enemy of the American people.” But his praise of a reporter’s assault drew particular scorn, coming amid a firestorm over the apparent murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi Arabian security forces.
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