Friday, September 14, 2018

In casting votes on Kavanaugh, will Sen. Jeff Flake act with courage or cowardice

According to Sen. Jeff Flake, Congress has a duty to curb Trump’s ‘reckless behavior’ reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog). But, as we all should know by now, there is a gap between what Flake does and what he says.

According to the analyses by Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com, Flake votes in accord with Trump 83.3% of the time. Now that sounds high, but compared to other Republicans it really is good - that puts Flake as the 5th lowest Republican in the Senate - along with Collins and Murkowski, for example. However, Flake votes with Trump more often than would be expected given the results of the 2016 election in Arizona, + 24.3. He’s the 13th highest on that measure.

That’s what Flake does. Now what does he say? For that we turn to Benen’s report.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) generated a few headlines yesterday, delivering another speech criticizing Donald Trump from the Senate floor. The Associated Press reported:

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is condemning President Donald Trump’s attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling them a “travesty.”

Flake, a vocal Trump critic, said Wednesday from the Senate floor that Trump has been “relentlessly slandering” Sessions. He warned that Trump seems headed for “some future assault” on the justice system, perhaps by firing Sessions or special counsel Robert Mueller. He urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on legislation to protect Mueller’s investigation.

The retiring Republican senator added that Congress has “the responsibility to curb such reckless behavior” from Trump and appealed to lawmakers to speak out.

Of course, speaking out and lawmakers taking steps to curb reckless presidential behavior are not the same thing.

Flake has become quite adept at delivering remarks like these, and for Trump detractors, the Arizonan’s speeches tend to be powerful and eloquent. I was especially impressed with the message he delivered at Harvard Law School in May, when Flake said, “Our presidency has been debased by a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division – and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works.”

But as compelling as Flake’s criticisms are, there’s still something important missing: follow through.

Circling back to previous coverage from January, after Flake delivered blistering remarks condemning his party’s president, some core truths remain unchanged. The senator, for example, continues to vote with Trump’s agenda the vast majority of the time, despite, to use his words, the “moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily.”

But this isn’t just a matter of voting records. In practical terms, Trump knows (and cares) so little about public policy that lawmakers like Flake have enormous power – especially in a narrowly divided 51–49 Senate. The question is what the Arizonan and his colleagues intend to do with that power.

Flake’s online bio, for example, notes that he serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is a subcommittee chairman. Has he used this perch to pressure the White House? Not in any meaningful way.

Flake also serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If he wants a vote on legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s investigation, for example, the GOP lawmaker could make his vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation conditional on a bill to protect the special counsel’s probe.s

That would be only part of what should be done. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would leave at risk matters such as Roe v. Wade.

I like Flake’s speeches, op-eds, and books. I also recognize that it takes some political courage to speak out the way he has. But I keep waiting for the Arizona senator to actually do something – to follow up his welcome words with deeds – instead of preparing the next speech, op-ed, and book.

It’s not that he is powerless to act in accord with his views of Trump and the administration. For example:

NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin noted a few months ago that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) started blocking the White House’s Justice Department nominees until the administration met his demands on matters related to his state. Flake, meanwhile, apparently sees the president as a danger to the republic, but he’s made no comparable moves.

Isaac Chotiner recently had a good piece in Slate along these lines, noting that Flake “seems entirely unwilling to take actions commensurate with either the times – which he correctly recognizes as frighteningly dangerous – or his own words. He seems to believe that anything too radical would be a violation of his conservative principles, when in fact he should be willing to temporarily put aside his commitment to those principles for his commitment to – by his own account – larger ones.”

In a 51–49 Senate, Flake can wield great influence. It’s not too late for him to take better advantage of the opportunity to keep a president that frightens him in check.

If Flake does not do that, he is guilty of being an “enabler” speaking out as did the author of a recent notorious op-ed, but in practice acting to advance Trump’s agenda.

In my recent letter to the (Green Valley News) editor, An open letter to Sen. Jeff Flake, I noted that Flake needs to act with “valor” and vote against the Kavanaugh nomination to SCOTUS. He could announce his opposition to the nomination and voice an intention to vote against the nomination. In that way he would provide political cover for other Senators (like Collins and Murkowski) who might be inclined to vote no.

Here I leave it with two “C” words. Will Flake cast that vote with Courage? Or meekly vote with Cowardice to confirm?

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