Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) expressed his disdain for Donald Trump when, in 2017, he announced that he would not be seeking reelection—and with Democratic Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema (who narrowly defeated Republican Martha McSally in the 2018 midterms) less than a month away from taking over Flake’s seat, the outgoing Arizona senator continues to butt heads with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Flake still favors legislation that would protect Mueller’s probe, while McConnell opposes such legislation. And Flake is refusing to budge, stressing that he will continue to block President Donald Trump’s federal judicial nominees as long as McConnell refuses to bring a Mueller bill to the Senate floor.
Flake was alarmed when, after the midterms, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointed loyalist Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. Whitaker has been an outspoken critic of Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the United States’ 2016 presidential election, and Flake has been adamant in his assertion that the investigation needs to continue.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was expected to consider Trump’s federal judicial nominations this week, including six nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals. But Flake is still playing hardball, and the standoff with McConnell continues. In a December 5 tweet, Flake reiterated, “the Senate needs to protect the Special Counsel.”
This was the second time in two weeks that Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called off a planned meeting to advance Trump’s judicial nominees because of Flake.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough—a former GOP congressman and persistent Never Trump conservative—praised Flake for “calling Mitch McConnell’s bluff” and refusing to back down despite the fact that he is “getting hammered by a lot of conservative outlets.”
One such outlet is the far-right Townhall.com. In a November 5 article, Townhall conservative Matt Vespa angrily described Flake as “a thorn in the side, a perpetual pain in the a** who will reap nothing with this ridiculous stunt. If he thinks sinking conservative judges will garner him gold stars in his potential bid for the presidency—yes, he seems to be mulling a run—this is a massive Never Trump miscalculation. This move should motivate people to hurl beer bottles at Flake.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is comprised of 11 Republicans and ten Democrats, making Flake a crucial swing vote. If all ten of those Democrats stick together and Flake votes “no” with them, Trump’s judiciary nominees will be blocked.
But a month from now, Republicans will have a slightly larger majority in the Senate. Although Democrats enjoyed a net gain of 40 seats in the House of Representatives this year, Republicans increased their majority by two seats in the Senate—and McConnell will remain as Senate majority leader.