Elected Republicans early Tuesday swatted down Donald Trump’s notion that people who burn the American flag should “perhaps” lose their citizenship or spend a year in jail.
“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Trump tweeted.
The response from some Republican congressional leaders was swift.
“People like that pose little harm to our country. But tinkering with our First Amendment might,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, according to CNN’s Phil Mattingly. Mattingly noted that McConnell was one of three Senate Republicans to vote against a constitutional amendment to ban desecrating the flag in 2006.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), asked about the tweet on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” had a more tepid response but affirmed that Americans’ right to burn the flag was “what the court upheld.”
“In my neck of the woods, people don’t burn their flags, they actually honor their flags,” McCarthy said. “We have a First Amendment right, but where I come from, you honor the flag. If someone wanted to show their First Amendment right, I would be afraid for their own safety. But we’ll protect our First Amendment.”
In its 1989 decision in Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 that flag burning was constitutionally protected as symbolic speech. The court struck down the federal Flag Protection Act of 1989 a year later.
On CNN’s “New Day,” Rep. Sean. Duffy (R-WI) said that “the court is probably right that we want to protect those people who want to protest, and their right to actually demonstrate with disgracing our flag, even though so many of us who love our country and love our flag object to it.”
And on Twitter, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) responded to Trump by writing, “Nobody should burn the American flag, but our Constitution secures our right to do so. No president is allowed to burn the First Amendment.”
This post has been updated.