By Tessa Berenson
January 17, 2018

The White House hit back against Republican Sen. Jeff Flake on the day he made a speech on the Senate floor criticizing President Trump’s relationship with the media.

Speaking at the daily White House briefing, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders argued that the Arizona senator made the speech merely as a ploy for attention.

“I found it quite interesting that he is coming out to attack this president considering he’s one that was recently defending an actually oppressive regime,” Sanders said. “He went to Cuba a few weeks ago and served as a mouthpiece for the oppressive Cuban government.”

Sanders was likely referring to Flake saying in early January that Cuban officials told him the FBI had found no evidence of a sonic attack, and that he had no reason to doubt Cuba’s account, the Associated Press reports. (More than 20 U.S. diplomats and family members in Cuba have experienced mysterious health problems over the past year as a result of what some believed to have been a targeted attack.)

“[Flake] is not criticizing the president because he’s against oppression,” Sanders continued. “He’s criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers. He is, I think, looking for some attention. I think it’s unfortunate, and certainly I think our position here at the White House is that we welcome access to the media every day … To act as if we’re anything but open to that back and forth exchange is utterly ridiculous.”

Earlier Wednesday, Flake accused Trump on the Senate floor of using “despotic language” about the press and said he has “inspired dictators and authoritarians.” Flake is not seeking re-election.

Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com.

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