Washington (AFP) - A senator from Donald Trump's Republican Party unleashed a powerful attack on the US leader Tuesday as he announced he would not seek re-election, telling Senate colleagues he "will not be complicit" with a "reckless" presidency.
Jeff Flake, of Arizona, assailed Trump in a bombshell 17-minute speech on the Senate floor, hours after the president made what was meant to be a bridge-building trip to the Capitol to drum up support for his tax reform plans.
Flake, who has served in the Senate since 2013 and has been an outspoken critic of Trump-era politics, displayed visible emotion, his voice repeatedly breaking, as he announced he would not run for office again next year.
"The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency -- the provocation for the most petty reasons... none of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal," said the 54-year-old.
"We must stop pretending that the degradation of politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal," Flake warned .
"Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior is excused as telling it like it is when it's actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified."
Flake blasted Trump for his unfettered tweeting, and attacked his Republican colleagues for keeping quiet as the president flouts one custom after another.
"The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters," he said.
"Politics can make us silent when we should speak and silence can equal complicity," added the senator, who has assailed Trump-style politics in a book entitled "Conscience of a Conservative."
"I have children and grandchildren to answer to.... I will not be complicit or silent.... I am announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019."
- 'Political price' -
Flake's extraordinary speech came as a Senate colleague, Bob Corker of Tennessee, stepped up a war of words with Trump, calling him an "utterly untruthful" leader who "debases" the nation.
Like Flake, Corker is not seeking re-election next year.
Immediately after Flake's speech, his senior colleague from Arizona, Senator John McCain, praised him for his "honor," "brilliance" and "patriotism."
"I have seen Jeff Flake stand up for what he believes in, knowing full well that there would be a political price to pay," McCain said.
Together with Flake and Corker, McCain is the third vocal Republican critic of Trump in the Senate. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in July.
Trump has previously attacked Flake as "weak" and "ineffective" and has derided Corker's height while labeling him "incompetent."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded by saying voters in Arizona and Tennessee would likely not have supported Flake or Corker next year were they to have run.
"The voters of these individual senators' states are speaking in pretty loud volumes. I think that they were not likely to be re-elected and I think that that shows that the support is more behind this president than it is those two individuals," she said.