Thursday, April 19, 2018

A total Flake

A week ago, Senator Jeff Flake was featured in an episode of This American Life.1 Senator Flake has gotten a lot of attention lately because he is one of the few sitting Senators who is willing to publicly say mean stuff  about President Trump. He is also not running for reelection (because the Trump-wing of the party was certain to defeat him in the primary), which theoretically frees him up to "vote his conscience."

Anyway, the TAL episode was about Flake's effort to pass protection for the Dreamers--something that a majority of Congress is on record as being in favor of, but that the Trump wing hates. So, the theory went, all Flake needed to do was get some version of the Dream Act to get a straight up-or-down vote and it would probably pass. The episode was about how Flake failed in his effort to even get it up for a vote, much less pass the thing.

TAL, like most of the coverage he gets, spun Flake as a man of conviction. But if you look past the spin, the events portrayed in the episode show a different Flake than that spin. At one point, Flake is being wooed by the Senate leadership to get him to vote in favor of the big tax cut bill. The Senate vote was going to be really close and that meant that Flake could use his leverage as a possible deciding vote to get the Dream Act passed. Flake privately tells the reporter in the story that the move is a bluff. He wants the tax bill to pass and will vote for it even if the DACA gambit doesn't work. On the eve of the vote, Flake unexpectedly gets an even stronger hand. The deal the Senate leadership was trying to reach with Susan Collins (Collins wanted to shore up the health insurance market) fell apart and so Flake suddenly became a must-get vote for the tax bill to pass.

 But if Flake really was a man of principle, who really believes the Dreamers need protection, he could have just voted "no" until he got what he wanted on the Dreamers. Instead, Flake accepted a vague promise from Mitch McConnell that he would bring the Dream Act up for a vote in the next couple of months in exchange for his yes vote. Even before Flake cast his vote, McConnell changes the terms of the promise, saying he would bring it up for a vote if the President also supports it. Flake votes yes anyway, and McConnell never allowed the Dream Act to come up for a vote.

Flake got played, right? No he didn't. What would happen was obvious from the start. McConnell essentially signaled that when he added the proviso that the Dream Act would only get a vote if the President supported it and it was clear the President would not support it (Trump's hostility to Dreamers and other immigrants is much of the basis for Flake's criticism of the president). Flake could have said "that's not the deal, I'm voting 'no'" but he didn't. Flake didn't get tricked into voting yes, he wanted to vote yes all along. He also kinda wanted protection for Dreamers, but no so much he was willing to stand up for that principle beyond making a few empty threats.

Essentially the same thing happened yesterday. President Trump has appointed a completely unqualified yahoo to lead NASA. Senator Flake, who has voted for most of Trump's ridiculous appointees so far, took a principled stand and voted against ending debate for the NASA nominee, which meant he was voting to block the nomination by filibuster. But the vote ended up being 49-49. Normally Vice President Pence could break the tie, but he was in Mar-a-Lago and couldn't. If the tie stood, the nomination would probably be blocked.

As soon as he realized the nomination might fail, Flake ran back and changed his "no" vote to a "yes." So soon we have an unqualified yahoo running NASA.

But the most revealing thing about the incident is what a total fraud Jeff Flake is. With the tax bill Flake was bluffing because he actually like the tax bill and wanted it to pass. But what is the explanation for this? Flake made a statement that he stood against Trump's nomination of a completely unqualified person to run the space agency. But it was just an empty statement, one he was only willing to make as long as he thought the nominee would be confirmed. As soon as Flake's vote made a difference, he showed his true colors: loyalty to party and to the President he pretends to challenge, over actual principle.

1- It is a good episode. I recommend it even though the implicit Flake fluffing is frustrating, it still is an interesting inside account of how the Senate legislates.