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President Donald Trump on Monday accused Sen. Ben Sasse of being a “RINO” who had “gone rogue” by scolding the White House for a recent collection of executive actions meant to provide assistance to Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “This foolishness plays right into the hands of the Radical Left Dems!”
Trump’s admonishment of Sasse comes after the Nebraska Republican issued a scathing statement in response to the president’s announcement of four relief measures after a breakdown in talks between White House negotiators and congressional Democrats — who failed last week to strike a deal on a new round of federal coronavirus aid.
In a politically charged speech Saturday delivered from his resort in Bedminster, N.J., Trump said he would pursue one executive order and three presidential memoranda to federal agencies aimed at cutting taxes for workers until the end of the year, extending unemployment benefits at a reduced rate, renewing a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, and deferring student loan payments and interest until the end of the year.
But Sasse, who emerged as an early GOP critic of the president despite consistently voting in favor of the White House’s legislative priorities, joined with Democratic lawmakers in questioning the legality of Trump’s maneuvers.
“The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop,” Sasse said Saturday night. “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’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s tweet Monday.
Sasse responded to Trump’s attack by tweeting a statement on Wednesday afternoon acknowledging the president’s anger and expressing regret that their argument was public.
The Nebraska Republican disputed Trump’s claim that Sasse needed his endorsement in his primary, linking to a campaign advertisement that portrayed the senator as a “straight shooter” who sometimes draws the ire of the president.
“I understand you’ve been frustrated I didn’t join your re-election campaign & that I ran a primary ad admitting to Nebraskans that we sometimes agree and sometimes disagree,” Sasse wrote. “You also know I never asked for your endorsement nor did I use it in the campaign.”
Sasse also doubled down on his criticism of Trump’s executive orders.
“No president — whether named Obama or Trump or Biden or AOC — has unilateral power to rewrite immigration law or to cut taxes or to raise taxes. This is because America doesn’t have kings,” Sasse wrote, adding a brief explanation of the Constitution.
The senator finished off his statement by offering to speak more in private and referencing a previous Trump attack in his signature.
“Sincerely yours, Gym Rat.”
The president has repeatedly attacked members of his own party in recent months, writing negatively about congressional Republicans on social media whenever they show a willingness to express public disapproval of his actions.
In July, Trump targeted Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania after the two lawmakers criticized his decision to commute the sentence of his longtime informal political adviser Roger Stone.
Two weeks later, the president lashed out at Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, promoting criticism from her conservative colleagues that she hadn’t been sufficiently supportive of the White House agenda.
Sasse has sparred with Trump since the president’s days as the frontrunner in the 2016 Republican primary. He derided then-candidate Trump as a “megalomaniac strongman” during a Senate floor speech in a December 2015, revealed he would not vote for Trump, called him “creepy” in February 2016, and said he did not think Trump had “any core principles” in March 2016.
After Trump’s election, Sasse told POLITICO in May 2017 that the new president “comes out of a reality TV world,” and acknowledged that he had “lots of anxiety about whether or not that kind of world is really what we want for our kids.”
More recently, Sasse condemned the aggressive dispersal of apparently peaceful protesters outside the White House in June so Trump could stage a photo opportunity while posing with a Bible at a nearby church. “There is a fundamental — a constitutional — right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop,” Sasse said.
And later that month, Sasse was among the Republican senators who pressed the White House on the president’s knowledge of reported Russian bounties paid to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. “I want to understand how it’s conceivably possible that the president didn’t know. How does that possibly happen?” Sasse said.
Still, Trump formally backed Sasse’s bid for a second term in 2020, tweeting last September that the freshman senator “has done a wonderful job representing the people of Nebraska. He is great with our Vets, the Military, and your very important Second Amendment. Strong on Crime and the Border, Ben has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
Max Cohen contributed to this report.