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GOP Sen. Ben Sasse: 'Too much drama' coming out of 'reality-show' presidency

The Nebraska Republican says administration infighting is "distracting" from tough issues.
Image: Ben Sasse Meet The Press
Sen. Ben Sasse speaks with Chuck Todd on Meet The Press on Sept. 9, 2018.NBC News

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said Sunday that President Donald Trump's White House is creating "too much drama" and is "distracting" the country from more serious issues.

"I don't have any desire to beat this president up, but it's pretty clear that this White House is a reality-show, soap-opera presidency," Sasse told NBC's "Meet the Press," running through a list of the more incendiary reports that have put the White House on the defensive in recent months, including several anonymous accounts detailing dissent and subversion in the administration.

"What you'd like is the president to not worry so much about the short-term of staffing but the long-term of vision-casting for America, pull us together as a people, help us deliberate about where we should go and then build a team of great, big-cause, low-ego people around you," he said. "Right now it feels like there's just way too much drama every day and that distracts us from the longer-term stuff we should be focused on together."

Sasse's comments came days after the publication of an anonymous op-ed article from a senior Trump administration official in The New York Times that described officials "working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."

The article has roiled Washington and the White House, sparking a city-wide guessing game as to the author's identity.

The timing of the article compounded its effect, as its central tenet — that Trump is losing control of his White House to top aides who see their role as protecting the president, and the country, from his impulses — is strikingly similar to reports in a new book by The Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward to be published this week.

Sasse said that all the noise reflects a broken process. "One adviser shouldn't be substituting his or her wisdom for the president's," he said. "There should be a process by which the president gets some counseling and it feels like neither of those things are happening in the right way right now."

In excerpts released ahead of publication, Woodward wrote of a White House filled with aides looking to protect Trump, and the country, from the president's "most impulsive and dangerous orders."

That description worried Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate minority whip, who laid the responsibility for a check on Trump at the feet of Republicans in Congress.

"This is a matter of great seriousness and gravity, we should not be dismissing this," he said on "Meet the Press," lamenting the "consistent reporting over and over again of unpredictable, unprepared, unstable behavior by this president."

"These are things that I think should be addressed by his own party, but instead we hear the silence of the lambs," Durbin added.

The president and his top aides have also sought to discredit the central allegations of The Washington Post reporter's book as well, with Trump calling it a "scam."

Many cabinet members and top aides denied authorship of the op-ed as frustration inside the White House mounted. The president's aides and allies described Trump's mood to NBC News as "volcanic" in the hours after the op-ed's release, and Trump has taken to Twitter to describe the author as "gutless" and called on his Justice Department to investigate during a gaggle with reporters.

It's that reaction by Trump, that raised questions for Sasse about the op-ed's motivation.

"I don’t understand the morality of the action, frankly. I don’t know why you would do it. If you are worried the president is too impulsive and paranoid, how could this op-ed do anything other than drive more paranoia?” he asked.

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway Sunday dismissed the reports by arguing that the anonymous sources should come forward if they had "courage."

And Conway said all the intrigue surrounding reports are just a distraction from the president's successes.

“You can’t deny — and even somebody’s poison pen, an anonymous op-ed, or the vitriol spewn all day long on some stations — can’t really touch the corners all across the country, Chuck, where people are feeling the economic boom, where they feel safer and more prosperous," Conway told NBC's Chuck Todd.

"He has given voice and visibility to folks who felt invisible and forgotten, they are better off because of his policies.”