Jeff Flake is a Politician’s Politician

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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Friday, when he demanded an FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. (Photo by Alexis Egeland/Cronkite News)

On Monday, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) came to campus to talk about “a rejection of American politics and a return to principle.” While the topic is an important one, I do not believe that Senator Flake is in any way qualified to speak on it.

Since Donald Trump’s candidacy, Flake has worked carefully to craft an image as a sensible Republican alternative by tweeting his disdain when the president says something especially problematic.

In his brief remarks, Flake challenged the idea of tribal politics and said that more often than not, he found himself to be a man without a party. My only question is when exactly Jeff Flake has found himself without a party. Was it when Mitch McConnell decided that the U.S. Senate would never hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland? Because that seems to have been the clearest example of bucking Senate norms, and yet Jeff Flake made no principled stand to support a hearing for the president’s nominee.

He voted to name Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, even after she demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of even the most elementary aspects of her position. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) opposed DeVos’ nomination, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote – the only time that has happened for a cabinet secretary nomination. Senator Flake could have made the politically courageous decision to oppose her disastrous nomination. He did not.

Did he feel without a party when he voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? Because on that vote of massive historical significance, Jeff Flake towed the party line, even when Senators Collins Murkowksi joined Flake’s own Arizonan colleague, John McCain, in opposing the measure. 

When it came time to point to his record of bipartisanship during his speech on Monday night, Flake cited how upset he was when his colleague, Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), was shot in Tuscon, Arizona. When Giffords attended the State of the Union address the following year, Jeff Flake helped her stand so she could applaud President Obama. Despite this, Senator Flake never pushed for any real comprehensive gun safety legislation that could prevent another shooting like the one Giffords endured.

Is being sad about a colleague being shot truly how low the bar for civility in our politics has fallen?

Jeff Flake has called for “a rejection of American politics.” Yet, he seems to be the politician’s politician. He tweets and talks a lot about bringing people together and shedding partisan politics, but when it comes to casting a vote, Flake does as his party asks.

On Friday, Jeff Flake looked visibly ill as he voted to move Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination out of committee to a full Senate vote. Yes, he called for an FBI investigation into the allegations made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and others. His concern, however, seems to be more about the process of how to confirm a man accused of sexual assault to the Court rather than whether or not a man accused of sexual assault should even be confirmed.

Jeff Flake is a conservative Republican. I do not expect him to vote with Democrats on every issue, or even on any issue, really. I do expect him to stop lecturing me about taking principled stands when he has never once demonstrated a real concern for doing so.

A reporter asked me what I thought Jeff Flake’s legacy would be as he prepares to leave the Senate after his term ends in January. I answered honestly that I believe Jeff Flake’s legacy hinges on the vote he is about to make and whether or not he votes to believe survivors of sexual assault. For me, Jeff Flake’s votes – not his tweets – will be his legacy. I hope he casts the right one on the Kavanaugh nomination.

Edit: The piece originally referred to Lisa Murkowski as a senator from Maine. She is, in fact, a senator from Alaska. The piece has been updated to reflect this correction.

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