President Trump’s recent comments about potentially revoking broadcasting licenses from network news outlets critical of his administration has prompted a member of his own party to question the commander-in-chief’s commitment to upholding the constitutionally protected right to free speech.
“Mr. President: Words spoken by the President of the United States matter,” Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, said in a statement Wednesday evening. “Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect and defend the First Amendment?”
The senator’s statement was shared on his Twitter account shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday evening and garnered roughly 16,000 retweets within 12 hours of being posted.
Mr. Trump ignited a firestorm earlier Wednesday for suggesting federal regulators review NBC’s broadcasting license after the network reported earlier that morning that the president wanted to dramatically increase the size of America’s nuclear arsenal.
“Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN,” Mr. Trumpresponded Wednesday morning on Twitter.
“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” Mr. Trumpsaid in another tweet. “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!” he said in another.
Mr. Trump ultimately moved his tirade from Twitter to the Oval Office, rehashing his comments during a conversation later Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying: “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write,.”
Mr. Sasse, meanwhile, was hardly the only person on Capitol Hill put off by the president’s remarks. Sen. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, wrote Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday asking his agency to “withstand any urges from President Trump to harm the news media and infringe upon the First Amendment.” Sen. Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire Democrat, also implored Mr. Pai to denounce the president’s “unacceptable attack on the free press.”
Neither Mr. Pai nor the FCC immediately commented publicly on the president’s comments or subsequent firestorm, but Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the FCC’s five commissioners, tweeted a reaction to Mr. Trump’s musing about challenging NBC’s broadcating license.
“Not how it works,” Ms. Rosenworcel tweeted Wednesday in response to the president’s comment along with a link to the FCC’s public broadcasting manual. “Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. Hope my FCC colleagues can all be on the same page with respect to 1st Amendment,” she said in another tweet.
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