Wissot: Jeff Flake comes up big in request to delay Senate vote on Kavanaugh nomination (column)
Just as you thought bipartisanship was a relic of the past, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, proves that a politician with a conscience can demonstrate how it once worked.
Let’s review. The events of the past week are too complicated to ignore. A pivotal Supreme Court nomination was in the balance. A nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, was being evaluated by the judiciary committee of the Senate for a lifetime appointment that would replace the Anthony Kennedy seat on the Court, a seat that would determine the conservative-liberal balance of the Court for a generation.
Kavanaugh’s nomination was being contested by Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who claimed he sexually assaulted her 36 years ago. Both offered testimony to the judiciary committee that conflicted with what really may have happened. Blasey-Ford emphatically claimed that an inebriated Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. Kavanaugh just as vehemently denied that it was him, though he doesn’t deny that she was assaulted by someone else, somewhere else in time.
Let’s acknowledge the obvious here: The politics can’t be ignored. This is a fight to the death.
For the Republicans, putting a justice more conservative than Kennedy on the Court is more important than holding onto the House or Senate in the upcoming midterms. It may be even more critical than holding onto the White House in 2020. Losing the House, Senate or White House can be reversed in future elections. Putting a 53-year-old justice on the Supreme Court can last for 30 or 40 years.
The stakes are not just political. They are personal, too. For Trump, putting this nominee on the Court maybe the penultimate test of his presidency. For Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, getting Kavanaugh on the Court would be the pinnacle achievement of his political career.
For the Democrats, the outcome is no less critical. As much as they would like to reclaim control of the House, perhaps the Senate and eventually the White House, preventing the replacement of Kennedy’s seat with a very partisan conservative such as Kavanaugh is more important to them.
Into the breach entered Jeff Flake. A lame-duck Republican Senator who is not running for re-election, Flake can’t be punished by an outraged Trump. He is playing with house money. This is his historic moment. He is putting a coda on his career in the Senate. The late John McClain, his mentor and fellow Senator from Arizona, is smiling down on him with two thumbs up.
What has Flake done? He has asked for a one-week delay in a Senate vote on the Kavanaugh nomination while the FBI conducts an investigation of the allegations of sexual assault made against Kavanaugh by Blasey-Ford.
He accomplished this by reaching across the aisle to his friend, Chris Koons, the Democratic Senator from Delaware. They managed to enlist the support of senators whose votes are necessary to confirm Kavanaugh, such as Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Susan Collins, of Maine, to force reluctant Republicans on the judiciary committee to agree to the delay.
So where do we go from here? I really do not know. I do know that this is the most critical vote the Senate Judiciary Committee has taken since the Clarence Thomas hearings of 1991. There, the alleged victim was Anita Hill. Her testimony failed to block Thomas’ ascension to the Court.
Whether Blasey Ford will succeed is an unknown. What we do know is that Jeff Flake has stepped into the political limelight and, in his final months as a U.S. Senator, has taken Dylan Thomas’ advice in refusing to “Go gentle into that good night.”
For that, we need to thank him for reminding us that bipartisan politics are the only politics that get anything done.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com.