Trump, Sasse Feud Following Senator's Diatribe Against President

Trump, Sasse Feud Following Senator's Diatribe Against President
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) listens as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington on Sep. 27, 2018. (Tom Williams/AFP via Getty Images)
Janita Kan

President Donald Trump expressed discontentment with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) on Oct. 17 after leaked audio revealed the Nebraska senator criticized the president while on a call to constituents earlier this week.

In a series of Twitter posts, Trump described Sasse as the "least effective" of all the Republican senators and suggested that he "truly doesn’t have what it takes to be great."

"Little Ben is a liability to the Republican Party, and an embarrassment to the Great State of Nebraska. Other than that, he’s just a wonderful guy!" Trump said in his post.
Trump was likely reacting to a leaked audio, which was first reported by the Washington Examiner, that disclosed a telephone conference call where Sasse was critical of the president. In the call, the senator expressed his dissatisfaction with the president for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his discontentment over Trump's foreign policy, among other issues.

Sasse said he's been honest about how he felt about Trump, saying the president had "done some stuff well, and some poorly."

The senator, who is pessimistic about Trump's chances at the polling booth, also expressed his concern that Trump and his actions could further polarize the country by driving the country further to the left, and "take the Senate down with him."

"This has been my fear," he said, according to the more than nine minutes of leaked audio. “[That] 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."

"I think we are staring down the barrel of a blue tsunami, and we’ve got to hold the Senate, and that’s what I’m focused on," Sasse said.

Following Trump's Twitter posts about Sasse, the senator's spokesman, James Wegmann, wrote on Twitter on Oct. 17: "Ben said the same thing to Nebraskans that he has repeatedly said to the President directly in the Oval Office. Ben is focused on defending the Republican Senate majority, and he's not going to waste a single minute on tweets."

At around midday, the president posted on Twitter again, floating the idea that Sasse, who is up for reelection on Nov. 3, could face the same fate as former Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who retired in 2019. Both senators had been critical of Trump.

"Senator Little Ben Sasse of the Great State of Nebraska seems to be heading down the same inglorious path as former Senators Liddle’ Bob Corker, whose approval rating in Tennessee went from 55 [percent] to 4 [percent], & Jeff “the Flake” Flake, whose approval rating in Arizona went from 56 [percent] to practically nothing," the president wrote.

"Both Senators became totally unelectable, couldn’t come even close to winning their primaries, and decided to drop out of politics and gracefully 'RETIRE.' @SenSasse could be next, or perhaps the Republicans should find a new and more viable candidate?"

The president also appeared to reject Sasse's assessment of the race, by posting, "GIANT RED WAVE COMING!"

Sasse, a first-term lawmaker, had previously challenged Trump on a number of issues, including the president's use of executive orders. He characterized Trump's use of the orders as an “unconstitutional slop.”

“President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and 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 said in August.

The criticism came after Trump signed four executive orders bolstering unemployment payments, deferring the payroll tax for most Americans, extending student loan relief, and directing officials to study whether measures temporarily halting all residential evictions are reasonably necessary.

Sasse's statement prompted Trump to call the senator a “RINO,” or “Republican in name only,” while saying the senator had "gone rogue" after receiving the president's endorsement.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.