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Sen. Ben Sasse On Suspected Explosives And Political Climate

NOEL KING, HOST:

The FBI is tweeting that another suspicious package was discovered this morning. This one was addressed to New Jersey's Democratic Senator Cory Booker. Now, that brings the total number of suspected pipe bomb sent to prominent people around the country up to 11. The investigation into where they came from and who sent them is ongoing. The FBI says more packages may still be in the postal system. Those packages have been sent to, among others, former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden. The president called for unity in his first statement after the discovery of the packages, but later, he pointed the finger at the media for, quote, "a very big part of the anger we see today."

To talk about some of that anger and this current political climate, we're joined now by Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Good morning, Senator.

BEN SASSE: Good morning, Noel. Thanks for finding me in rural Nebraska.

KING: Very good to have you here. We don't know the motivation of the person or people who sent these packages, but the targets are very clearly political. What does that tell you about our current political climate?

SASSE: It's ugly. We have very little sense of we. And this crosses another line because we don't do political violence in the U.S. There's no place for it. That's not how we settle our disputes.

KING: But this country does have a history of using violence to work through things to settle scores. America, in many ways, has long been a divided country, hasn't it?

SASSE: It surely has. But that's - when we act that way, we're departing for who we are and what it means to build a more perfect union and the better angels of our nature. So what we're supposed to do in public life is say, hey, the direction of the future, the direction we want to head together is a direction where people who differ still believe in each other's humanity - 320 million Americans are supposed to believe that 320 million other Americans have souls. And the way that we settle our political disputes is through persuasion. And we set violence outside the bounds of what we tolerate and allow and wink at.

KING: At first, President Trump condemned all political violence. But later, he attacked the media again, including a tweet from just this morning, just after 3:00 a.m. Eastern Time. The president tweeted, and I quote, "funny how lowly-rated CNN and others can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11 and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them, they go wild and scream, it's just not "presidential." Now, just as a reminder, the offices of CNN in New York did get one of these suspicious devices, these bombs. What do you think of the president's response here?

SASSE: I haven't been on Twitter today, so I haven't seen that. But in America, we don't say things like the press is the enemy of the people.

KING: Well, let me dig in a little deeper here. Recently, President Trump praised a Republican congressman from Montana, Greg Gianforte, who physically attacked a reporter named Ben Jacobs. Here's a clip of the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Greg is smart. And, by the way, never wrestle him. You understand that? Never. Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of...

KING: Senator Sasse, I wanted to ask you about this particularly because the president is treating this as a joke, right? And I wonder, do you think that treating violence as a joke against the press is making things more dangerous?

SASSE: I don't know what goes through his head when he says stuff like that. There are people watching a rally like that on TV that are insane. America isn't a place where every single person is fully functioning and processing the information the way the president in a situation like that probably thinks that it's performance art. We're not talking about this specific case. I haven't spoken with law enforcement. I don't have any specific information on this investigation.

But the bigger point is we need an overarching sense of we that precedes and supersedes the particular policy or legislative issues that you might find about. And that sense of we includes the freedom of the press and religion and speech and press and assembly again, protest. And so that's what we're supposed to be passing on. I don't know what you say to a rally like that when one of the fundamental duties of the president should be shepherding a sense of what the we is. That doesn't mean we don't differ about lots of other things, but they're subordinate to that. And they're after you've condemned any sense of threats of political violence and domestic terrorism.

KING: Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, is also author of the book "Them: Why We Hate Each Other - And How To Heal." Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SASSE: Thanks for the invite. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.