Jeff Flake finds his ‘Sense of Decency’

Creative Commons photo by Gage Skidmore

Known for being august and reserved (if not somewhat boring), the United States Senate is not somewhere one goes for impassioned debate or scathing critiques.

Such scintillating content is more often found in the lower chamber on the other end of Capitol Hill or the House of Commons in the United Kingdom.

But on October 24, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican facing a nearly impossible primary challenge next year, decided to take to the floor and announce his retirement. With nothing left to lose, Flake fired both barrels at the Trump administration, declaring its actions were “dangerous to a democracy.”

“Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” Flake said.

While declining to name Trump directly, he was not shy in calling on his colleagues (primarily his Republican colleagues) not to sit idly by and allow this to continue.

When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do — because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseum — when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.

Flake did everything but directly call for the impeachment of the president of the United States.

The reaction to the speech has been fascinating, but not surprising. The White House blew it off, top Senate Democrats (and some Republicans) loved it, and conservative commentators either engaged in ad hominem attacks or thought Flake was a Democratic shill.

The problem with the critics is that Flake is a bona fide conservative Republican and has been one much longer than Donald Trump. And Flake, fellows Republican senator John McCain (Ariz.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.), have become a political “Three Amigos,” having all attacked Trump in the last 48 hours. Of course, McCain is fighting cancer and Corker and Flake aren’t running for re-election, so all three are giving “their last full measure of (political) devotion” to their country, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln.

 

Whether or nor you agree with Flake, or even if this move plays right into the hands of Democrats pounding the drums for impeachment, it is impossible to deny how brave it was to challenge a sitting president from your own party with the words of two of its greatest leaders, the aforementioned Lincoln and Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt.

It’s reminiscent of when Army lawyer Joseph Welch took on Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Minn.) during the 1954 Army—McCarthy hearings. After what Welch considered McCarthy’s badgering of a witness and many others over the two months of the hearings, the latter famously asked: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Flake has had his “Sense of Decency” moment. One wonders whether it will have the same impact on President Trump as Welsh did on McCarthy. Or will such attacks will simply become part of the “new normal” Flake warned against.

The trouble for impeachment supporters is that while a simple majority is needed in the House of Representatives, two-thirds of the Senate must support the president’s removal from office.

Ironically enough, the Senate switching hands from Republican to Democratic control might give the GOP cover to vote in favor of removing a president many are having buyer’s remorse for putting into office in the first place.

Then again, there are at least three senators who wouldn’t mind if impeachment proceedings came before January of 2019.

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