September 28, 2018
The Republican has stood up for Christine Blasey Ford. Now his vote looks pivotal
Jeff Flake: the man who may hold Kavanaughs future in his hands
The future of US supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh may come down to the vote of one man: Arizona senator Jeff Flake, a Republican known as a critic of Donald Trump.
Following Thursday’s marathon testimony before the Senate judiciary committee from Kavanaugh and Dr Christine Blasey Ford – who accuses the judge of sexual assault when they were both teenagers – the committee is set to vote on Friday on whether to approve Kavanaugh’s nomination.
The committee splits 11 Republicans to 10 Democrats, meaning just one GOP senator could make all the difference.
Flake has been one of the most prominent Republican voices standing up for Ford, telling the Senate before the committee hearing on Wednesday: “I do not believe the claim of sexual assault is invalid because a 15-year-old girl didn’t report the assault to authorities, as the president of the United States said just two days ago. How uninformed and uncaring do we have to be to say things like that, much less believe them?”
Following the testimony by Ford and Kavanaugh, he said of the California psychology professor: “She was certainly a compelling person. She gave good testimony.”
But he added: “This isn’t easy,” saying the hearing had left him “with as much doubt as certainty … We just do the best we can.”
Flake has been a consistent thorn in Donald Trump’s side, refusing to endorse him in 2016 and last year announcing his retirement from the Senate because there was no room for him in a party dominated by the current president.
“When the next generation asks us: ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? What are we going to say?’” he asked his Senate colleagues in his speech telling them he would be joining a large number of Republicans standing down in the wake of Trump’s victory, something that analysts think will help the Democrats’ chances at the midterms this November.
In his 2017 book Conscience of a Conservative, which took aim at Trump’s populist trade policies, Flake wrote: “In the 2016 election, a suffering American working class was ripe for Trump’s message of fear, which was relieved to hear an easy solution that only he had thought of and only he could execute. Such a reductive populist message should make conservatives ill. But as this message advanced, we retreated, before capitulating altogether.”
Trump has returned the compliment, saying of the outgoing Arizona senator: “Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!”
Flake is no liberal, and according to website FiveThirtyEight has voted with Trump’s position in the Senate 83.6% of the time, backing controversial cabinet nominees Jeff Sessions, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt and others. He also voted for the rolling back of bank regulations, to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and for the failed attempts to repeal Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reforms, Obamacare.
But as well as opposing Trump on trade he has lambasted the president on immigration, and was the co-author of a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US.
Now, as he prepares to leave the Senate, Flake may play a role as pivotal as that of another Republican Trump critic representing Arizona, the late senator John McCain, who helped block Obamacare repeal.
Even if Kavanaugh fails to pass the committee stage on Friday, however, Republicans could still put him up for a vote of the full Senate, fearful that Democrats may snatch control of the chamber against the odds in November and make the approval of any other Trump-nominated judge difficult, if not impossible.
But in the full Senate victory for Kavanaugh would be just as tricky. If all Democrats vote no, just two Republicans could sink his nomination, and swing-vote senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, like Flake, have raised concerns about the accusations against the judge. On the other hand, the conservative Democrat Joe Manchin may break ranks and vote to confirm Kavanaugh.
For now, all eyes will be on the outgoing senator for Arizona as the judiciary committee prepares to meet on Friday.
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