2018 midterms

The Lame Gesture of a Lame Duck

Jeff Flake has gotten massive attention after forcing his party to accept an FBI investigation of Kavanaugh allegations. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The embattled apostles of bipartisanship, driven to despondency by the dynamics of the Kavanaugh confirmation fight, have a new hero: Arizona senator Jeff Flake. Last Friday in the Senate Judiciary Committee Flake at least temporarily delayed his party’s rush to confirm the conservative judge by insisting on a one-week delay in the Senate vote to accommodate some sort of FBI investigation of allegations against Kavanaugh. And he and his friend the Democratic senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who is also on the Judiciary Committee, told the world a heartwarming tale of their courageous common efforts to save some vestige of civility amid the partisan savagery of contemporary politics, appearing jointly on 60 Minutes:

The two senators even made a joint appearance at a charity event this weekend:

Sen. Jeff Flake was hailed as a hero Saturday by Judiciary Committee colleague Sen. Chris Coons at the Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park.

Flake took the stage at the festival, an MSNBC-televised music event that highlights education, poverty and preventable diseases, and spoke in praise of young people who are active participants in politics….

“He just needed some reassurance to listen to his own conscience and recognize the very real doubts he had at the end of Dr. Ford’s testimony—and which a number of other colleagues had—were worth taking a pause and investigating,” Coons said.

The nice moment was nearly spoiled, though, as Flake chose to joke about the famous moment before the Judiciary Committee drama unfolded, when two sexual assault survivors confronted him in a Senate elevator:

“There are people’s voices we need to hear from around the world and here in our own country,” Coons continued. “So keep reaching out because we hear you and we need to keep hearing from you.”

“So feel free to join me in an elevator anytime,” Flake quipped shortly after, drawing boos from the audience.

Flake undercut his Bipartisan Hero persona more directly, however, in the 60 Minutes interview, when asked if he would have undertaken the gambit in the Judiciary Committee were he not retiring from the Senate this year:

“Not a chance,” Flake said when asked on CBS’s “60 Minutes” if he would have asked for the investigation if he were up for reelection in the November midterms.

“There’s no value to reaching across the aisle,” Flake said. “There’s no currency for that anymore. There’s no incentive.”

So the lesson of the Flake’s small rebellion against his party — which he undertook while making sure Kavanaugh would get a Senate vote and a favorable recommendation from the Judiciary Committee — is that it was only possible because he had taken himself out of harm’s way by retiring. Those carrying the sad banner of bipartisanship had probably better find themselves a different hero. Flake’s action, whatever its noble intentions, was the lame act of a lame duck, not some model for the restoration of civility in Washington.

Flake Admits Retirement Made Kavanaugh Rebellion Possible