Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is currently facing the ire of the right on social media and beyond, presumably because he’s guilty of being a weak traitor.
The problem with that narrative is it discounts something we lost over the past couple decades in Washington. Flake is leaving the Hill, and right now he’s showing exactly why he doesn’t fit in – he’s being an old-style statesman.
First, it’s important to understand the difference between “cutting deals” and simply talking across the aisle. Flake is not in a position to cut any deals with anyone, particularly not in the nomination process of Brett Kavanaugh. In all honesty, no member of the Judiciary Committee has control over what happens next – the debate and vote on Kavanaugh on the Senate floor. That falls on Senator Mitch McConnell, who may or may not take the advice of Senator Chuck Grassley – not Flake – on the timing of the vote on the floor.
Second, it is Friday. Other than being “news dump” day, it is also a time which is difficult for setting schedules. Yes, it is possible that McConnell could schedule debate first thing next week. For that matter, he could try to insist on debates over the weekend. However, that’s not likely. Flake is being attacked for suggesting that the Senate hold off on voting on the Kavanaugh appointment for one week. It’s important to remember that there is process involved here, which can include floor debates. That takes time, and could feasibly take up to a week.
Flake knew both of these things going into his conversations with the Democrat Senators on the Judiciary Committee – honestly, everyone on the committee knew this. People can try to guess why Flake decided to talk about giving the FBI a week to investigate the allegations against Kavanaugh, but regardless of his motivations, it was the right thing to suggest. Arguably, Flake was the only person who could, because he doesn’t have to worry about re-election. It’s true that he was confronted by rape survivors in the Senate building, and that incident may have made him think more sincerely about suggesting the delay. But, while everyone is running around with their heads on fire over what he did, they are forgetting something important.
Kavanaugh supposedly wants to clear his name, but also appeared as though he didn’t want a deeper investigation into what really happened.
At the very least, that is a little strange.
Additionally, there has supposedly been push back from the FBI itself, which has included statements to Fox News that specified the Kavanaugh matter is not a criminal one, but a political one. The FBI does investigations into criminal matters, not political ones. Flake undoubtedly was aware of that report, and also understands that if there is enough pressure from the Hill for an investigation, the FBI will probably conduct one anyway.
Even though it might be tempting to think that McConnell will choose not to request a week long, limited investigation by the FBI because of the political climate on the right, if that is the route he takes it will probably be because of Kavanaugh. And that may also be part of Flake’s reasoning in this token statement about wanting to delay the floor vote. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely anyone will truly know why Flake engaged in talks across the aisle. The people who are so busy screaming about him being a traitor aren’t stopping long enough to think about why he did it. It’s easier to just assume he’s weak, when there are far more moving parts in play.
Of course, that makes it easier for politicians who don’t want to answer hard questions – it’s easy to predict the knee-jerk responses of the highly partisan camps of voters. Then one only has to decide how much damage they can tolerate if they are choosing to do something that will be unpopular with the masses. In Flake’s case, even that variable isn’t in play because he has nothing to lose. So, he’s managing to engage in nuanced statesmanship, while the masses just blinding accuse him of being a traitor. Maybe it really is unfortunate that he isn’t seeking re-election, because that definitely isn’t a “weak” move. It takes far more strength than pandering to the masses.
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Senator Jeff Flake and Old-Style Statesmen in the Senate