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WASHINGTON — Senator John McCain said Sunday that a free press is vital ‘‘to preserve democracy as we know it.’’ And he cautioned about efforts to muzzle the free press, saying ‘‘that’s how dictators get started.’’

The Arizona senator was asked in an interview for NBC’s ‘‘Meet the Press’’ how he felt about President Trump’s tweet criticizing ‘‘the fake news media’’ that said ‘‘it is the enemy of the American people.’’

In the NBC interview, McCain said, “The fact is we need you.’’

‘‘When you look at history, the first thing dictators do is shut down the press,’’ he added.

McCain added that he was not saying Trump was trying to be a dictator but ‘‘we need to learn the lessons of history.’’

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The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Trump sounded like a ‘‘tin-pot dictator’’ by making comments criticizing the news media as ‘‘the enemy of the American people.’’

Representative Adam Schiff of California described Trump’s tweet last week as ‘‘the most devastating’’ and ‘‘the most alarming’’ in attacking the First Amendment right to a free press.