The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Maverick or renegade?

Politics | The role of Sen. Jeff Flake in the Kavanaugh saga
by Harvest Prude
Posted 10/04/18, 05:44 pm

WASHINGTON—In the spectacle that is the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has emerged as one of the stars of the show.

Without Flake, the curtain might have closed on the drama last weekend. But a funny thing happened on the way to Friday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Two protesters encountered the senator in an elevator, accusing him of dismissing victims of sexual assault and voicing their own stories of being assaulted. One protester told him of her experience being molested as a child while Flake listened with a downcast expression. The protesters turned out to be activists connected with the liberal-leaning Center for Popular Democracy.

Nevertheless, Flake showed signs of wavering afterward. He declined to give a regular statement and pulled aside Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., as well as others on the Judiciary Committee, to talk in a back room. When the issue finally came up for a vote, Flake lobbed his grenade: He said he would vote to advance Kavanaugh out of committee but on the condition that lawmakers would ask for a weeklong FBI investigation ahead of a full floor vote. The committee voted 11-10 along party lines to recommend Kavanaugh to the full Senate.

With a razor-thin majority of 51-49 in the Senate, GOP leadership agreed to the investigation, as potential Republican swing votes—Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—voiced their support for a more in-depth background check of Kavanaugh.

Later, Flake said on CBS’s 60 Minutes that it was a move he would not have made if he was running for reelection. It was a maverick move, a role Flake increasingly has found himself assuming.

The Arizona native is a Mormon who served as a missionary in South Africa before graduating from Brigham Young University. He and his wife, Cheryl, have five children. He served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, starting in 2001, and won election to the Senate in 2012 after campaigning on a platform of decency and civility.

A sometimes vocal critic of President Donald Trump, Flake nonetheless overwhelmingly has voted to support the president’s policies—around 83.6 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. But Flake also has ruffled party feathers, like when he opposed Trump’s travel ban and supported Democratic candidate Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama over GOP nominee Roy Moore, who faced accusations of sexual misconduct that allegedly took place when he was younger. Flake even donated $100 to Jones’ campaign, captioning a photo of the check on Twitter, “Country over Party.” In 2017, Flake codified his criticism of Trump in his book Conscience of a Conservative.

His outspokenness has cost him: In October 2017, haunted by a sinking approval rating, Flake announced his retirement, saying his candidness had been “a matter of duty and conscience.” His announcement followed news that Trump considered floating $10 million to Flake’s potential 2018 GOP challengers.

The move on Kavanaugh’s confirmation also cost him. Though his Republican colleagues stayed away from criticizing him personally, opinions castigating him soon flooded Twitter, and conservative commentators joined in. Fox News host Sean Hannity said the senator had “flaked in a big way” and revealed weakness by caving to the demands of Democrats. Another conservative commentator, Dan Bongino, said Flake “has no spine” and had “sold out the GOP.” Liberal-leaning pundits also criticized the move, with some expressing their belief it was a stunt to give Flake and undecided senators cover for if they later voted yes on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

In a speech Monday at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, Flake said he sometimes feels “like a man temporarily without a party.” He also said, “My message here today is tribalism is ruining us. It is tearing our country apart.” It was the senator’s second appearance this year in the early presidential primary state, fueling speculation that he might challenge Trump for the GOP nomination in 2020.

Flake has previously expressed admiration for another independently minded lawmaker who hailed from Arizona, Sen. John McCain, who died in August from an aggressive form of brain cancer. In a tribute to McCain, Flake wrote that just as his colleague “taught the country the value of standing alone to do what is right, he taught me that as well.”

In a news conference directly after Friday’s committee vote, Coons said Flake’s move showed “the American people … that we are able to work together.” The Democrat from Delaware appeared to tear up as he talked about Flake’s concern for the health of Congress: “What Sen. Flake is trying to do is achieve a brief, credible investigation … and serve as a role model as he has for me today of someone who is willing to take a real political risk and upset many in his party.”

Associated Press/Photo by Esteban Felix (file) Associated Press/Photo by Esteban Felix (file) A family that was separated at the U.S.-Mexico border walks through Pedro Sula, Honduras, after being reunited and returning home.

Inspector general says DHS botched ‘zero-tolerance’

The Department of Homeland Security was not prepared to implement the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy earlier this year that separated parents and children upon entering the United States illegally, a report by the department’s inspector general found.

The report details problems keeping track of children and reuniting them with their parents due to a mishmash of computer systems across the federal agencies involved in processing and housing migrants.

Despite a claim that Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services had a central database on separated parents and children, the inspector general “found no evidence that such a database exists.” Record-keeping issues also called into question statistics about how many families had been reunited, the report said. Steps were not taken to ensure that babies and toddlers, who could not yet talk, could be correctly identified through fingerprints, photographs, or other methods. Parents said they were not told that they would be separated from their children or how to contact them right away.

The report also highlights the use of short-term detention facilities to hold children for extended periods of time and conflicting messages sent by the department to asylum-seekers at border checkpoints that likely led to an increase in the number of illegal border crossings.

Homeland Security took issue with the report’s characterizations of children being held in short-term facilities and communication problems at border checkpoints. It said it was committed to treating people humanely and called the care and transfer of minor children a “critical operational priority.” —Anne K. Walters

Associated Press/Photo by Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail Associated Press/Photo by Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker (front left) at her impeachment trial Monday

Judges on trial

The first of four West Virginia Supreme Court justices facing impeachment on accusations of overspending and corruption went on trial before the state Senate this week. Senators voted 32-1 on Tuesday to reject an impeachment article against Justice Beth Walker after her two-day trial, but they adopted a resolution by voice vote to publicly reprimand her. She faced just one impeachment charge of abusing her authority.

Impeachment trials are set later this month for Justices Robin Davis and Margaret Workman and next month for Justice Allen Loughry. Lawmakers approved a total of seven impeachment articles against Loughry, four against Davis, and three against Workman. The charges stem from questions about more than $1 million in lavish office renovations—$503,000 by Davis, $367,000 by Loughry, $131,000 by Walker, and $113,000 by Workman—and accusations of corruption, incompetence, and negligence of duty. Loughry also faces a criminal trial on a 25-count federal indictment alleging he repeatedly lied about using his office for personal gain. Opening statements are set for next Wednesday.

Davis announced her retirement shortly after her impeachment and a fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned before impeachment proceedings began. U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and former Republican state House Speaker Tim Armstead have been appointed to serve as temporary justices until the Nov. 6 special election to replace Davis and Ketchum. Walker remains in office. —Kiley Crossland

It was only a test

U.S. emergency authorities are evaluating the success of the first nationwide test of an emergency alert sent to mobile phones.

The message, labeled a “Presidential Alert,” was sent to mobile phone users at 2:18 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, causing a loud tone to sound along with a text message that read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Some people said they did not receive the message, and some AT&T users created an online forum asking why their phones hadn’t been included. Others viewed the test as an imposition, questioning its necessity and calling it “an invasion of privacy.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was gathering information from mobile phone users about whether they had received the message.

The alert uses the same system that delivers alerts about weather emergencies and missing children. It would be used in the event of a national emergency such as a terrorist attack. The alert system is mandated under federal law, and the presidential alerts cannot be turned off. —A.K.W.

Read more of The Stew Sign up for The Stew email
Harvest Prude

Harvest is a political reporter for WORLD's Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Harvest resides in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @HarvestPrude.

Read more from this writer


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • JerryM
    Posted: Thu, 10/04/2018 06:59 pm

    Should "conservative commentator, Dan Bongino, said the Flake" be "conservative commentator, Dan Bongino, said Flake"?

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Fri, 10/05/2018 11:05 am

    Thank you for pointing out the error. It has been corrected.

    Posted: Fri, 10/05/2018 10:30 am

    Are there no Kavenaugh supporters outside the Senate building? All the main stream media ever shows are the protesters... I felt Flake's move was weak, especially in light of Joe Biden's speech to Clarence Thomas why an FBI investigation was of little value, and so it has turned out: Nothing New to Report, except maybe the emphasis on the utter weakness of the alegations, proven by Dems abandoning last week's cries of sexual predator to now, he was too passionate in defending himself against these (more clearly now than ever) character maligning alegations...


  •  phillipW's picture
    Posted: Fri, 10/05/2018 11:58 am

    Flake is a coward, pure and simple.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 10/05/2018 10:12 pm

    I wonder if Sen. Flake is attempting to position himself for a run (Presidency, maybe?) in which he portrays himself as “able to work with both parties” etc. 

    If so he will probably remind us constantly that he was fair, heard both sides, and did not follow in lockstep with the other Republicans during Judge Kavanaugh’s hearings. 

    Honestly, we do need more of that, but not to the extent that we make common cause with evil. And I do regard what has been done to Judge Kavanaugh as evil.