In one of the most dramatic moments on Capitol Hill last week, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said the Senate should delay the floor vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh until an FBI investigation is completed. He said this not long after sexual assault survivors confronted him at an elevator and asked him to reconsider voting for the nominee.
But just one week later, Flake voted to advance Kavanaugh to a final confirmation vote — seemingly satisfied with the limited FBI investigation that took place. According to NBC News, he is willing to confirm Kavanaugh in the final vote, which is expected to take place on Saturday.
Flake said the only way his vote would change is if “something big happens.” He added that it was a “hard decision.”
Last Friday, two women confronted Flake, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher.
“Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me,” Archila said to Flake. “That you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”
To his credit, Flake’s response to survivors confronting him — he listened and then said he had to leave — may have been preferable to other senators’ responses. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for example, told sexual assault survivors last week, “I’m so sorry… you needed to tell the cops,” and then he rushed into an elevator. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) waved away female protesters, although it’s unclear whether they were sexual assault survivors, and told them to “Grow up.”
Flake told The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins that he was getting emails and calls from friends and acquaintances sharing their own stories of sexual violence and acknowledged Dr. Ford’s testimony “struck a chord” with “a lot of women.”
He told Coppins of the women in the elevator, ” … you know, you feel for them. It was poignant.”
But when it came time for Flake to let survivors know he heard their stories and took them seriously, he failed to represent them and voted to advance the nomination.
In comparison, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) voted to block the nomination on Friday.
Murkowski said in her statement to reporters, “This hasn’t been fair to the judge but I also realize that we need to have institutions that are viewed as fair and if people who are victims, people who feel that there is no fairness in our system of government, particularly within our courts, we’ve gone down a path that is not good and right for this country.”
Heitkamp also released a statement and said, “When I listened to Dr. Ford testify, I heard the voices of women I have known throughout my life who have similar stories of sexual assault and abuse.”
To be sure, Flake’s call for an FBI investigation was also affected by considerations unrelated to sexual assault, even as he claimed to be aware of survivors’ stories. In Flake’s interview with The Atlantic, Coppins asked if Flake was mainly motivated by “preserving institutional credibility.”
Flake said, “Two institutions, really. One, the Supreme Court is the lone institution where most Americans still have some faith. And then the U.S. Senate as an institution—we’re coming apart at the seams.” He also told Coppins he would probably vote to confirm Kavanaugh unless the FBI investigation found something that would change his mind.
But Flake’s vote for Kavanaugh at this time doesn’t preserve the credibility of institutions because the FBI investigation is clearly a political farce and has no credibility. The investigation ignored dozens of people who could possibly help corroborate sexual assault allegations and won’t interview people who said they have evidence of perjury. Trump’s White House counsel, Don McGahn, took the lead in overseeing this investigation, even though he is the same person behind efforts to get Kavanaugh confirmed. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the first woman to come forward with allegations of sexual assault, and the only person to testify before the Senate, wasn’t interviewed by the FBI. There are many more reasons to conclude the investigation was incomplete and shoddy at best, and a total sham at worst. Of course the investigation hasn’t turned up additional evidence to change Flake’s mind — it wasn’t designed to be a substantive investigation interested in seeking the truth.
“But anyway I’m glad we had a better process,” Flake said to ABC News Friday.
He got what he wanted. He was able to participate in political theater that made him look like a principled conservative with empathy and concern for institutional integrity without his having to sacrifice a U.S. Supreme Court justice.