Fulchino: 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 and 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.

Senator Jeff Flake Visits Saint Anselm, Calls for Compromise and Bipartisanship

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Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) at the New Hampshire Institue of Politics on Monday, where he talked about a new American politics. (Photo from The Boston Globe)

This past Monday, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) visited the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College to give a talk entitled “After the Deluge: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.” Flake’s visit to Saint Anselm College, a favorite stop for any presidential hopeful, came in the midst of an ugly battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In his speech, Flake lamented the damage that tribalism has done to the United States under President Trump.

“Tribalism is ruining us,” Flake announced to the crowded auditorium, “It is tearing our country apart. It is no way for sane adults to act.”

Some students in attendance agreed with Flake’s message of bipartisanship. Tim Madsen ’19, Chairman of the Saint Anselm College Republicans, expressed his own opinion of Flake’s visit, saying, “He was calling for more civility and bipartisanship in government, something that is certainly a good thing.”

Emily Prud’homme ’19, an International Relations major, also attended the event and shared her thoughts on Flake’s rhetoric: “He gave a thoughtful speech about building bridges between party lines and uniting together as an American people. His message was that sometimes you must fail your tribe to achieve the greater good.”

Flake went on to say that “the only tribe to which we owe allegiance is the American tribe.”

Sean Connor ’20, a Communications major, said he was skeptical of some parts of Flake’s speech. “I think that Senator Flake blurred the line between when it is right to go against partisan lines and when it becomes deconstructive towards progress as a whole. I really respect Senator Flake and his work, but I think that if he wants us to return to his vision of civility, he needs to stop seeing his party as a tribe he is looking forward to disappointing, and more as a people he hopes to work with to a better tomorrow.”

Indeed, Senator Flake remarked that he had failed his tribe, the Republican Party, but said that he hopes to continue to do so and preached a message rooted in the importance of compromise.

He briefly discussed his friendship and working relationship with Senator Chris Coons (D-DE). Coons and Flake gained notoriety when they struck a deal shortly before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote to advance Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. Flake demanded that the FBI reopen the background check investigation into Kavanaugh in light of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault.

Saint Anselm students had mixed reactions to Flake’s vote to conditionally pass Kavanaugh on to the full Senate. Prud’homme disagreed with Flake, saying, “I do not agree with his decision to vote with the Republicans. I recognize the complexity of the situation – that this claim of sexual assault occurred when Ford and Kavanaugh were very young.” She continued, “However, sexual assault cannot be undermined no matter how many years pass . . . Denying him would send a message that our country and government is not tolerant of this type of conduct,.”

Hayley Morgan ’20, said, “I didn’t really enjoy the fact he voted for Kavanaugh, but I respected how he used his position in this matter to call for an FBI investigation.” Morgan also attended the protest, saying she did so “because I believe that even if Judge Kavanaugh is innocent of the allegations against him, he has proven that he does not have the temperament to have a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Haley Bragdon-Clements ’21, the Vice President of the Saint Anselm College Democrats, said, “I applaud how Senator Flake handled this matter, and I wish that other Republicans had taken the same initiative. I hope to see people on both sides of the aisle coming together and treating this as a nonpartisan issue as how this is handled will set a tone for how this issue is addressed in the future.

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Protestors greeted Senator Flake upon his arrival at the NHIOP. (Photo from NHYD Twitter)

Across the street from the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, people voiced their contempt for the Kavanaugh nomination. Nearly 130 protesters, including students, gathered together in protest of Senator Flake and to urge him not to vote in favor of Kavanaugh come time for the full Senate vote.

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Dennis Aveta ’20 was one of the student protestors. (Photo courtesy of Aveta)

Molly Benson ’20, a Nursing major, attended the protest. “As a student, I hope this sent a message that if sexual assault is not welcome on this campus, it absolutely should not be welcome or rewarding in the highest court in our country,” she said. “If this Senate confirms Kavanaugh, they are setting a precedent that if survivors of sexual assault come forward, abusers will not be held accountable.”

At the end of his speech, Flake did not take questions from the audience, which is unusual compared to other NHIOP events.

Sean Connor, ’20, remarked that he was not surprised by this change. “I think given the events of the last week, the best way to control that environment was to avoid a questions and answers session. It’s easy for events like this to turn into chaos.”

After his remarks, Flake was immediately swarmed by reporters from various outlets. The senator made it known that he is waiting for the results of the FBI investigation before deciding whether or not to vote in favor of Kavanaugh.