Few Senate Republicans have been as critical of President Trump as Jeff Flake. This isn’t saying much, but the outgoing Arizona lawmaker has spoken out against the president on several issues, from his trade war, to his attacks on the media, to his “shameful” press conference alongside Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Flake’s many protestations have become something of a running joke, however, as he has largely towed the party line whenever it comes time to cast his vote on the Senate floor. Now, the most significant action Flake has taken to back up his anti-Trump rhetoric may be taking no action at all. As the Senate gears up for what was supposed to be a busy month of confirming the president’s judicial nominees, Flake has taken off for Zimbabwe.
Sunset this evening in rural Zimbabwe. Tomorrow, election day, marks a new day for this beautiful country. pic.twitter.com/rFNRCf1llw
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) July 29, 2018
The Senate normally takes a recess in August, but this year, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided to keep lawmakers around to confirm as manyconservative judicial nominees as possible, likely out of a fear Republicans could be without their majority after November’s midterms. Flake took off for Africa anyway, and because he’s on the Senate Judiciary Committee, none of the nominees who have yet to pass through the committee can be confirmed until he gets back. As James Hasson points out on Twitter, this could also keep Vice President Mike Pence from campaigning for Republican candidates, as he’ll need to stay in Washington, D.C., to break the 49-49 tie on nominees who have already passed through the committee and are simply awaiting a floor vote.
So, nominees that have not already gotten out of committee will be stuck there. Nominees that gotten out of committee and are awaiting a floor vote will now require Pence to break the 49-49 tie—which means Pence has to stay in DC to break ties instead of campaign for R candidates
— James Hasson (@JamesHasson20) July 30, 2018
As Hasson continues to note, it’s unclear whether Flake is doing this intentionally, or whether he just really wanted to take in Zimbabwe’s electoral process. Either way, he’s not around to vote. Flake’s office has not responded to request for comment as of this writing.
This isn’t the first time Flake has stonewalled the confirmation process. As American manufacturers began to suffer as a result of tariffs Trump imposed on foreign steel and aluminum, Flake announced he was refusing to confirm judicial nominees until the Senate could vote on an amendment to curtail Trump’s power to impose tariffs. A few weeks later, the Senate voted on a non-binding, largely symbolic measure that required the government funding bill to include language that gives Congress a role when tariffs are implemented for national security reasons. Flake immediately dropped his opposition and the judiciary committee quickly confirmed two of Trump’s circuit court judges. The tariffs, meanwhile, are still very much in effect, and continue to cost Americans jobs.
Flake will reportedly be absent for most of August, but he will be back in time to confirm the biggest judicial nominee of them all, Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump picked to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vacant Supreme Court seat earlier this month. Flake won’t likely oppose Kavanaugh, which means two other Republicans would need to vote against him to block the nomination. Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine were thought to be the best candidates to turn against the party out of fear that Kavanaugh could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, but they haven’t exactly been critical of his qualifications thus far. Libertarian Senator Rand Paul expressed reservations, but, as expected, has come around, tweeting on Monday that he will vote to confirm Kavanaugh.
After meeting Judge Kavanaugh and reviewing his record, I have decided to support his nomination. No one will ever completely agree with a nominee (unless of course, you are the nominee). Each nominee however, must be judged on the totality of their views character and opinions.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) July 30, 2018
The best chance Democrats have to prevent the Supreme Court from moving dangerously far to the right is somehow delaying the vote to confirm Kavanaugh until after the midterms in November. Either that, or hope Flake returns to the United States a changed man.