U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake’s role in forcing a last-minute FBI investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was classic Jeff Flake.
It followed a familiar pattern for the retiring one-term Arizona Republican, who has been out of step with his party under President Donald Trump: Flake raised hopes of a breakthrough in the usual partisan stalemate, then fell back to the standard Republican position, and in the process frustrated people on the left and the right.
It also highlights the political no-man’s land where Flake has found himself since Trump moved into the White House.
For all of his verbal jousting with the president – through floor speeches, tweets, TV appearances and even a book – Flake largely has fallen in line with the White House’s Capitol Hill agenda.
To anti-Trump liberals, Flake is all talk and no action.
To pro-Trump Republicans, Flake is just a nuisance who is constantly undercutting the president.
To Flake, he’s a conservative in the tradition of Sen. Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan: supporting free speech, limited government, free trade and other pro-growth economic policies but whose party – and base – have moved in different directions.
Flake helped broker a seven-day FBI investigation of sexual-assault allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford against Kavanaugh. But after Friday’s hearing, he told reporters that he wants to see Kavanaugh confirmed for the high court.
Democrats were pleased to have an investigation, though they immediately worried that a week was not enough time to do a thorough job. Republicans saw the development as another pointless delay.
As Flake’s six-year tenure in the U.S. Senate winds down, he is at the center of the ideological struggle in Washington that he doesn’t control and doesn’t seem to enjoy.
This was captured on live television in a glum-faced encounter in an elevator Friday with women who demanded he justify his support for Kavanaugh. It echoed last year’s viral video of Flake getting an earful from a fellow airline passenger on GOP efforts to repeal “Obamacare.”
Sept. 28: Women confront Sen. Jeff Flake in elevator ahead of vote
But in the end, Flake usually goes along with fellow Republicans on big issues such as rolling back the Affordable Care Act, tax reform and, as many observers expect, the Kavanaugh nomination.
Battles with Trump
Flake has worried about the coarseness Trump brings to American politics and has decried the president’s incivility and uncouth behavior time and again on Twitter and on the Senate floor.
On some issues, such as tariffs, Flake opposes Trump.
But because Flake supports Trump in many other key areas, he doesn’t often vote against him.
Sept. 28: No, Jeff Flake isn’t filing charges against women who confronted him on sexual assault
Flake also has fueled speculation that he might challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential race, in part with trips like Monday’s upcoming visit to New Hampshire.
Flake is scheduled to make his second appearance in the key early primary state to deliver an address titled, “After the Deluge: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.”
Flake last year authored “Conscience of a Conservative,” an update on Goldwater’s classic text for Republicans.
But it’s unclear whether there is a market for Flake anywhere in the current GOP.
Richard Herrera, an Arizona State University associate professor of political science, said Flake does not see himself as a rubber stamp for Trump or the Republican Party.
“He wants to follow as close as possible what (the late Sen.) John McCain called for, which is regular order, which is respecting the process enough to allow for investigations when they’re called for,” Herrera said. “He sees it in this case as being called for and he has set aside political motivations to say this is what the Senate should be doing all the time.”
Sept. 27: Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings spark more protests
While McCain was lionized as a “maverick,” especially after his thumbs-down vote torpedoed GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Flake’s efforts have been pilloried by Trump and ridiculed by the left.
Battles over immigration, gun rights
From pushing immigration reforms that ultimately went nowhere to solidifying ties to Cuba – only to see Trump vaporize them – Flake has had a frustrating run in the Senate.
Flake championed comprehensive immigration reform, but never got a deal done. And his work with Democrats on the issue alienated many grass-roots conservative activists who consider a pathway to citizenship for immigrants without legal status to be “amnesty.”
He committed to voting for last year’s tax-reform package in exchange for what he called “a firm commitment” from Senate leaders and the White House to work with him on a legislative solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
Congress still has not enacted a DACA fix.
Opinion: I confronted Jeff Flake over Brett Kavanaugh. Survivors like me won’t stand for injustice.
In 2013, Flake voted against bipartisan legislation that would have tightened background checks on gun sales because he thought it went too far in cases involving private gun transfers. That earned him scorn from the left.
In 2017, after the gunman’s attack on the GOP congressional baseball team that wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., Flake acknowledged his shifting views on gun control, which brought criticism from the right.
Flake is a free-trader who believed that the economic embargo against Cuba, which dated to President John F. Kennedy’s administration, had long outlived its usefulness. He found an ally on the issue in Democratic President Barack Obama, only to see Trump reverse course.
Kavanaugh and Ford
When Kavanaugh appeared Thursday in an explosive hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Flake barely participated in the questioning, making one-minute remarks criticizing the process and leaving his decision open to speculation.
On Friday morning, after what he described as a sleepless night, Flake released a written statement saying he would vote in favor of Kavanaugh when the Judiciary Committee took up the nomination.
He did, but only after putting together the bipartisan deal that led to the new FBI investigation of the sexual-assault allegations against Kavanaugh and the weeklong delay in the Senate’s final vote.
Late Friday, Flake told The Arizona Republic he’s received text messages, emails and phone calls from women.
Sept. 28: Brett Kavanaugh: A week offers plenty of time for FBI to investigate allegations, former officials say
Flake said the unexpected moment with the women at the elevator left an impression.
“They were very passionate, you could tell it meant a lot to them,” Flake said. “That was only one aspect of the week – of the past two weeks. I’ve received so many phone calls and emails and texts from people, from women in particular, saying how much this process, and Dr. Ford’s testimony, had encouraged them to talk about their experiences. And that meant a lot. It did.”
With time running out in his one and only Senate term, Flake likely knows that his role in the Kavanaugh proceedings could have a big impact on his legacy.
“If Kavanaugh ends up being confirmed, then it probably isn’t going to hurt him too much among Republicans because he’ll be able to argue that he encouraged the Senate to take a move that eased doubts about Kavanaugh,” said John J. “Jack” Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California.
“If, on the other hand, the delay should in some way lead to Kavanaugh’s defeat, that will be a lot more consequential for him, and Republicans will hold that against him. At the moment, he would definitely not be the favorite senator of the Republican base.”
In his interview with The Republic, Flake said the fight between the parties Thursday and Friday was just “ripping the country apart.”
He also suggested that his mind may still be open.
“It’s excruciating to hear testimony so compelling from the accuser and the accused,” he said. “I said you’d probably leave the hearing with as much doubt as certainty. It was our responsibility to do what we could to answer as many questions as we can. That’s what due diligence is. I think we haven’t done enough of it and I think the country felt the same way.”
The Flake-brokered compromise put the ball in motion for the brief FBI investigation, but the senator didn’t say he was backing away from confirming the judge.
And Trump was fine with the move, authorizing a “supplemental investigation” of Kavanaugh.
It was a deal, like others in Flake’s Senate term, that left everyone wishing for something better.
This article provided by NewsEdge.