The White House on Wednesday attacked Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) as desperate for good poll numbers and “a mouthpiece for the oppressive Cuban government” after Arizona’s junior senator harshly criticized the Trump administration’s use of rhetoric like “fake news” and “enemy of the people” to describe the press.
Flake reliably votes the Republican line, but he has stood up to Trump on the Senate floor on issues such as press freedom, as he did Wednesday. He gave a another forceful speech in October, when he announced that he would not be running for re-election.
“In response to Sen. Flake specifically, I found it quite interesting that he is coming out to attack this President, considering he is the one that was recently defending an actually oppressive regime,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when asked about Flake’s speech. “He went to Cuba a few weeks ago and served as a mouthpiece for the oppressive Cuban government.”
She was referring, presumably, to Flake’s recent statement to the Associated Press regarding what the White House has claimed are government-directed sonic attacks on American tourists and diplomats on the island.
“The Cuban Interior Ministry is saying the FBI has told them there is no evidence of a sonic attack, even though that term is being used, attack, there is no evidence of it,” Flake told the AP on Jan. 6, contradicting the Trump administration’s assertions. “There’s no evidence that somebody purposefully tried to harm somebody.”
“He’s not criticizing the President because he’s against oppression, he’s criticizing the President because he has terrible poll numbers,” Sanders continued. “And he is, I think, looking for some attention.”
She added, without directly addressing any of Flake’s criticisms: “I think it’s unfortunate and certainly I think our position here at the White House is that we welcome access to the media every day. I’m standing right here taking questions. The President does so regularly. And to act as if we’re anything but open to that back-and-forth exchange is utterly ridiculous.”
As if on cue, Sanders briefly addressed another question about administration’s Fake News Awards, which Flake said his speech Wednesday were a “spectacle.”
“I know you’re all waiting to see if you are big winners, I’m sure,” she told the White House press corps.