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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., blasts President Donald Trump from the Senate floor on Feb. 6, 2018, for joking that Democrats who didn’t stand and applaud during his State of the Union speech were “treasonous.” U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON — White House officials said Tuesday that President Trump was joking when he told a Cincinnati crowd that Democrats who didn’t applaud his State of the Union address were “treasonous.”

But Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., isn’t laughing.

“Treason is not a punchline,” said Flake, the Arizona Republican who has emerged as one of Trump’s biggest critics in his own party. 

In a speech on the economy Monday, Trump derided Democrats who failed to applaud good economic news during the State of the Union address, calling them “un-American.”

More: Trump blasts ‘treasonous’ Democrats for not applauding at his State of the Union address

“Somebody said ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess. Why not?” he said. “Can we call that treason? Why not. They certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

The remarks were met by laughter and applause.

In a floor speech in the Senate, Flake said Trump doesn’t know what the word “treason” means and doesn’t know the power his own words.

“I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now-weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek,” he said. “As members of Congress, we must not ever accept undignified discourse as normal because of the requirements of tribal party politics.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump didn’t mean that Democrats were traitors, but stood by the larger point that Democrats were putting their hate for Trump over love of country.

“Honestly, I’m not going to respond directly to Senator Flake’s comments,” Sanders said. “I don’t care what Senator Flake has to say, and I don’t think his constituents do either. That’s why his numbers are in the tank.”

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