Nebraska US Sen. Sasse pushes back against GOP activists

GRANT SCHULTE
·3-min read
FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2021 file photo, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Sasse is pushing back against some fellow Republicans who want the state party to formally censure him for his outspoken criticism of President Donald Trump after the U.S. Capitol riot. Sasse on Thursday, Feb. 4, posted a YouTube video response to county GOP activists in Nebraska who are pushing to censure him a second time after he said that Trump deserved some blame for inciting the riot. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP, Pool File)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska is pushing back against some fellow Republicans who want the state party to formally censure him for his outspoken criticism of President Donald Trump after the U.S. Capitol riot.

Sasse on Thursday posted a YouTube video response to county GOP activists in Nebraska who want him to be censured after he said Trump deserved some blame for inciting the riot.

The Nebraska Republican Party's State Central Committee is expected to vote Feb. 13 on a possible censure. The committee has censured Sasse once before, in March 2016, after he leveled other criticism against then-candidate Trump. A censure from the party is essentially a public reprimand that lets party activists voice their disapproval.

“I’m not going to spend any time trying to talk you out of another censure," Sasse said in the video. "I listen to Nebraskans every day, and very few of them are as angry about life as some of the people on this committee — not all of you, but a lot. Political addicts don’t represent most Nebraska conservatives.”

Sasse said party activists are “hacked off” that he condemned Trump's statements to a crowd just before the riot and that he isn't “bending the knee to one guy.” He also pointed to his voting record as one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate.

“Let's be clear about why this is happening,” he said. “It's because I still believe, as you used to, that politics isn't about the weird worship of one guy.”

Sasse has been openly critical of Trump, drawing criticism from some Nebraska Republicans who wanted him to be loyal to party candidates. Activists have also expressed frustration that Sasse used the GOP label and party resources when he ran for office in Nebraska, but then refused to support their chosen presidential nominee.

Sasse toned down the criticism briefly in 2019 and highlighted areas of agreement with the president when he was running for reelection against a pro-Trump primary challenger. Trump later endorsed Sasse, saying he had done a “wonderful job” representing Nebraska. But a year later, he called on Republicans to replace the senator after Sasse criticized him again.

Nebraska Republican Party Executive Director Ryan Hamilton said the party's state central committee will decide whether to censure Sasse by a membership vote.

Hamilton said the party has received thousands of phone and email messages expressing dissatisfaction with Sasse after he said Trump “consistently lied” and promoted conspiracy theories after he lost the presidential election. Hamilton said he was aware of at least eight different petitions from local party activists calling for Sasse to be censured again.

Asked Friday whether he would support a censure of Sasse, Gov. Pete Ricketts noted that the senator has been a consistent conservative throughout his Senate career, but acknowledged that he has “heard a lot of frustration” from constituents about Sasse’s public statements. Ricketts, a Republican and Trump supporter, said he would rather see party members talk to Sasse directly about their concerns.

“I think a dialogue would be a better approach,” Ricketts said. “That’s what I would encourage people to do.”

One of the censorship motions came from Scotts Bluff County Republicans in rural, western Nebraska, one of the most pro-Trump areas of the country. Some party activists have said they're frustrated by what they see as Sasse's unwillingness to address them directly.

In an open letter to Sasse, County GOP Chairwoman Kolene Woodward said local Republicans were frustrated by his frequent criticism of the former president.

“You were elected to represent the people of Nebraska who overwhelmingly voted for President Trump," Woodward wrote in the letter. “Your actions are a selfish, political ploy.”

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