WASHINGTON ― Following President Donald Trump’s latest inflammatory tweet that essentially promoted violence against journalists, top GOP lawmakers so far have responded with silence, perpetuating their pattern of doing little as the nation’s chief executive breaks more barriers in his war with the media.
Trump on Sunday tweeted what appeared to be an edited version of a 2007 clip of him beating up WWE founder Vince McMahon, with CNN’s logo replacing McMahon’s face. It was then retweeted by the president’s official White House account, @POTUS, following a week of renewed attacks against CNN and other news outlets, which Trump has branded as “fake news” and “fraudulent.”
“What about GOP leaders? What about Republican leaders?” CNN media reporter Brian Stelter asked Sunday about responses to the tweet. “Where’s [House Speaker] Paul Ryan? Where’s [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell? Are GOP leaders going to speak up about these attacks against the media?”
As of Sunday evening, neither Ryan nor McConnell’s offices had responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment on Trump’s tweet.
Trump’s behavior and outbursts ―which likely would have sunk the political careers of anyone else ― have spurred GOP criticism in the past. But the party’s leaders have done little to try to stop him, and have remained supportive of his presidency.
The latest example came last week, after Trump attacked MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski in a series of sexist tweets. Republicans on Capitol Hill responded with various iterations of concern. They have also frequently lamented that Trump’s tweeting habits distract from the GOP’s legislative agenda. But their day-to-day dealings with Trump go on, seemingly unaffected by the controversies.
Trump has time and time again undermined the free press, which has galvanized opposition to the media among his supporters. During his White House campaign, he regularly incited protests and violence against reporters at his raucous rallies. As president, he and his administration have embarked on an anti-media crusade, keeping the press and the public in the dark, sometimes on even basic matters.
Trump’s treatment of the media has prompted press freedom groups to lower America’s ranking in their global assessments of press freedom, with some equating the level of press freedom in the U.S. to that of authoritarian nations.
Still, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday falsely insisted the president “in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence,” as she defended Trump’s tweets targeting Brzezinski.
Earlier last week, after 3 CNN journalists resigned in the wake of the network retracting a story involving a Trump transition official, the president and White House aides treated the incident as a victory and used it to continue their attacks on “fake news.”
He also assailed the “fake media” during a July 4th event honoring military veterans on Saturday night.
Responding to Trump’s tweet during a television appearance Sunday morning, White House homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert initially appeared stunned by the video, but proceeded to defend it anyway. He told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that “no one would perceive that as a threat.”
“I’m proud of the president for developing a Twitter and a social media platform where he can talk directly to the American people,” Bossert said.