GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska has blasted President Donald Trump for suggesting that a major broadcast network should have its license revoked for publishing news of which Trump disapproves. Sasse subsequently had a tense exchange with Fox News host Sean Hannity about the U.S. Constitution.
On Oct. 11, Trump took to social media to deny an NBC News report that stated he requested a tenfold increase of the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a Pentagon meeting. The president accused NBC of false reporting and suggested that it lose its ability to broadcast, The New York Times reports.
"With all of the Fake News coming out NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License?" Trump tweeted. "Bad for country!"
The president later added: "Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked."
Sasse responded to the president's comments on Twitter.
"Mr. President: Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?" Sasse tweeted.
Hannity, a prominent television personality, radio host and vocal Trump supporter, blasted Sasse for criticizing the president.
"One of the biggest mistakes in my career was supporting [Ben Sasse]," Hannity tweeted. "Just useless."
On Oct. 12, Sasse fired back against Hannity, doubling down on his critique of Trump's comments.
"Sorry Sean -- you changed, not me," Sasse tweeted. "Some of us still believe in the Constitution. No President should play with censoring news they dislike."
The Nebraska senator added: "Question for conservatives: What will you wish you had said now if someday a President Elizabeth Warren talks about censoring Fox News?"
NBC is a television network and does not hold a singular broadcast license. Its parent company, Comcast, does broadcast through local television stations that can have their licenses reviewed if the Federal Communications Commission were to receive complaints from local residents.
"[Trump] doesn't have the legal power to deny licenses, but this has a chilling effect," former FCC commissioner Michael Copps told NBC News.
Journalism professor Mark Feldstein of the University of Maryland asserted that Trump's comments were an infringement on the First Amendment even if he did not have the power to rescind NBC's broadcast license.
"Whether he follows through on his threat or not, he sends out an unmistakable message to every broadcast outlet in the country: 'Watch what you say -- or else,'" Feldstein said.