Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has been getting praise heaped upon him for “doing the moral thing,” for “taking a step back,” for “acting on his conscience,” and for “working across the aisle” by figuring out a way to delay Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS confirmation vote, pending further investigation by the FBI. But you don’t have to scratch too deeply into Flake’s sugar-coated surface to become cynical about his tactics and his motives.
Flake’s heralded rebellious behavior arrives against a backdrop of his previous history of pontificating against Trump and his policies and positions, followed almost immediately by his consistently voting in favor of Trump’s policies and positions. The stakes here, however, are far greater than whether or not Flake agrees with Trump on any single policy matter.
If Flake had truly wanted to act morally and ethically, he had a less flimsy option available: he could have voted no in committee in order to allow sufficient time for a thorough FBI investigation of all pending allegations. He would have been able to use the power of one committee member’s vote to ensure the result would be aligned with his purported position of morality.
Instead, he used a different strategy: vote affirmatively in committee to proceed to a floor vote, with a pledge to vote no when the nomination went to the full Senate. He agreed to a delay of a single week instead of letting the investigation take the amount of time that would actually be necessary. This cursory delay gives Flake and the Republicans cover to pretend they looked deeply enough into Kavanaugh’s questionable past. Flake can go home to Arizona and continue his public hand-wringing without truly having done anything genuine to get to the truth of Kavanaugh’s potential crimes through a robust, unconstrained investigation.
We’ve already seen Trump put limitations around the FBI investigation, including excluding any accusations by the third accuser and preventing the FBI from interviewing those folks from Kavanaugh’s college years who have stated that they regularly witnessed him drinking to excess and exhibiting belligerent behavior.
If Kavanaugh is confirmed (as many Republicans have promised that he will be, despite not having a clue what the FBI might uncover), three of the nine SCOTUS justices – a full third of the court – will be under a lifetime dark cloud. Clarence Thomas, despite his confirmation years ago, is under renewed scrutiny and criticism in the era of #MeToo; Neil Gorsuch’s seat rightfully belongs to Merrick Garland; and Brett Kavanaugh, who will perpetually be mistrusted as the result of Thursday’s riveting and credible testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, along with a whole host of unexamined or under-examined allegations from additional accusers and witnesses.
On a couple of occasions, I’ve listened to people support Flake by saying that he’s done more than any other Republican has done to try to make this debacle better. That, sadly, is probably true. But there is still a gigantic chasm between Flake’s actions and a truly moral and ethical solution. Flake may have been able to give Republicans a pretense to hide behind and he may momentarily assuage his own sense of guilt. But it does little to get to the actual truth of Kavanaugh’s history to determine whether he is morally suited for a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court.