Call this a Captain Obvious moment in last night’s joint interview on 60 Minutes. Jeff Flake joined his Gang of Two colleague Chris Coons to celebrate bipartisanship in the form of a one-week delay on Brett Kavanaugh’s final confirmation vote. Flake, who will retire from the Senate at the end of the year, laments that there is no incentive to reach across the aisle anymore, and that if he had to stand for election he never would have done it:
Could Senator Jeff Flake have pushed for compromise in the Kavanaugh confirmation process if he were up for re-election? pic.twitter.com/rIFvnKlsqF
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 1, 2018
Scott Pelley: Senator Flake, you’ve announced that you’re not running for re-election and I wonder, could you have done this, if you were running for re-election?
Sen. Jeff Flake: No, not a chance.
Scott Pelley: Not a chance?
Sen. Jeff Flake: No, no.
Scott Pelley: Because politics has become too sharp, too partisan?
Sen. Jeff Flake: There’s no value to reaching across the aisle. There’s no currency for that anymore. There’s no incentive.
There’s actually an argument to be made for that, but curiously, the interview never follows up on that exchange. Flake’s hardly the first member of Congress to lament a lack of compromise and good faith on Capitol Hill; the late John McCain made that a theme of his later career. Voters complain about gridlock almost as often as they complain about compromise, although they tend to blame their political opponents for the former and their allies for the latter in most cases.
However, it’s one thing to lament a lack of compromise on policy. It’s another thing entirely to compromise principles, especially on due process and the burden of proof. It’s also another thing entirely to do so and effectively reward those across the aisle who sandbagged the Judiciary Committee by keeping this allegation secret until after the initial confirmation hearing, and then leaking it to the press rather than inform the committee majority.
And finally, the compromise itself is a shabby and threadbare attempt to keep Kavanaugh twisting for whatever other mud people can scrape up over the delay. A reopened FBI background check will only take statements from witnesses who could have come forward weeks ago, had the committee dealt with the Ford allegation squarely, and without the attendant circus that incentivizes tainted testimony. It can’t accomplish any more than Senate investigators could do, either. The FBI has no power to compel witnesses to talk in a background check, nor does it have the jurisdiction to investigate an allegation outside of its jurisdiction and for which no complaint has still been filed.
At the end of the week, we’ll be left in the same place as we were on Friday, only with a lot more goalpost-shifting, as Byron York notes:
In the last 48 hours, immediately after Senate Republicans and President Trump agreed to Democratic demands that the FBI investigate the 1982 incident, the Kavanaugh goalposts have moved dramatically. Now, a key issue is Kavanaugh’s teenage drinking, and whether he testified truthfully to Congress about the amount of beer he consumed in high school and college more than three decades ago, and the effect it had on him.
Just look at the headlines:
“Yale Classmate Accuses Kavanaugh of ‘Blatant Mischaracterization’ of His Drinking.” (New York Times)
“Another Yale classmate breaks silence: Kavanaugh lied.” (CNN)
“Brett Kavanaugh’s College Friends Say He Lied Under Oath About Drinking.” (NBC)
And many others. The allegation is that at last Thursday’s hearing, Kavanaugh lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was asked about his drinking practices both in high school and at Yale University. Kavanaugh was under oath at the time.
So what did Flake gain by reaching across the aisle? Apparently nothing, as he explains at the end of the interview. Coons says that it will instill more confidence in the process, but he makes no mention of any concessions won by Flake in exchange for his “compromise”:
Scott Pelley: What are the chances that we are going to be in exactly the same place a week from now?
Sen. Jeff Flake: There’s a chance and we knew that. And some of our colleagues said that, “We’ll be back here one week from now. It’ll be worse.” There will be other outrageous allegation that come forward, the FBI will talk to people who don’t want to talk anymore. We won’t be any better off. There is a chance that that will happen. I do think that we can make progress.
Sen. Chris Coons: I think we will be in a different place. Because lots of survivors around the country will feel that Dr. Ford’s story was heard and respected and further investigated. We may well be in a different place a week from now because judge Kavanaugh and his family may well have had exculpatory evidence brought forward.
That is sheer horse puckey. There are no dates, times, or places attached to the allegations, and they’re from 36 years ago. It’s impossible to produce exculpatory evidence that firmly clears anyone from such allegations, which is why our system is supposed to discount such allegations unless accompanied by inculpatory evidence. Left unstated is the fact that the very witnesses Ford included in her allegation insist they recall no such incident, including “lifelong” Ford friend Leland Keyser, who said she never attended any party with Kavanaugh at all. Under the circumstances, given the vagueness and shifting details of Ford’s allegation, that should have been exculpatory enough without the FBI reopening a background check.
That is the principle Flake compromised on Friday, and by doing so incentivized all of the nonsensical allegations that will follow, both this week against Kavanaugh and in the future against everyone else. Flake sold out Kavanaugh and those principles for a meaningless bipartisan pose.