Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a fierce critic of President Trump, delivered a scathing floor speech Tuesday in which he blasted the president’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior and announced he is abandoning his futile 2018 Senate re-election effort.
“We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country – the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations,” Flake declared in a searing 17-minute speech on the Senate floor.
“If I have been critical, it’s not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States,” Flake fumed. “If I have been critical, it is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience.”
The senator continued: “The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters – the notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.”
Flake also issued a challenge to his Republican colleagues: “It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?”
CBS “This Morning” anchor Norah O’Donnell later asked Flake if he thought Trump should be removed from office.
“You seem to be igniting a movement,” O’Donnell said. “You write, it is time to take a stand against Trump. If he is dangerous to democracy, as you say, should he be removed from office?”
Flake insisted he is not leading an impeachment movement against Trump.
“I don’t think any of those remedies are justified, I really don’t. High crimes, misdemeanors, people talk about impeachment on the left, I don’t think that’s the direction to go. Nor do I think the 25th amendment is either,” Flake said. “I do think members of Congress ought to speak out. If the president follows through on some of the policies or threats he’s made with regard to the First Amendment, for example, or in terms of the tweets and just kind of the debasing statements that he’s made and also on the foreign stage.”
Flake made an appearance on “The Today Show” Wednesday and revealed he didn’t vote for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
“I didn’t vote for this president last November,” Flake told NBC’s Matt Lauer, adding he didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, either.
“I am a Republican. I am a conservative. I would love to have a Republican president, but not at any cost,” he said. “I can tell you no president, Democrat or Republican in recent memory has exhibited the kind of behavior that this president has.”
CNN political analyst Mark Preston was among the members of the media swooning over Flake’s comments.
“I call it historic. This is the type of speech that I think tomorrow should be shown, should be listened to by every high school civics class, politics class, history class,” he said. “The reason being is that we are in a moment in time right now where there’s so much divisiveness in the country; there’s so much divisiveness amongst our own selves; there’s so much divisiveness within each political party, that something has to break.”
An August poll from JMC Analytics showed Flake was trailing behind primary challenger Kelli Ward, a former state senator in Arizona, by 25 points.
Asked if Flake should be nominated for the Senate again in 2008, a full 66 percent of respondents said another person should represent the Republican Party on the ticket.
President Trump has tweeted praise for Ward and condemnation of Flake.
On Aug. 16, Trump tweeted: “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake, Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!”
And on Monday, Trump ripped Flake in another tweet: “Phoenix crowd last night was amazing – a packed house. I love the Great State of Arizona. Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!”
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that the retiring senator has just an 18 percent approval rating and pointed out that his other GOP colleagues offered him a standing ovation on Tuesday.
Another Republican Trump critic in the Senate, Bob Corker, announced in September that he will be retiring. Corker supported Trump’s 2016 election but said he wouldn’t do so again, according to the New York Times.
Several weeks ago, Corker said Trump is leading the U.S. “on the path to World War III.” Trump fired back Tuesday, saying Corker “couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.”
President Trump chastised Corker for his skepticism concerning the GOP tax-reform proposal. Corker has said he won’t back any plan that increases the federal debt by a single dollar.
“Isn’t it sad that lightweight Senator Bob Corker, who couldn’t get re-elected in the Great State of Tennessee, will now fight Tax Cuts plus!” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning amid fears Corker could stir opposition to the president’s tax-reform plans.
Corker, who referred to Trump’s White House as an “adult day care center,” replied: “Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president.”
Corker accused the president of “debasing our country.” He also told reporters Tuesday: “There were many people – I was one of those – who hoped [Trump] would rise to the occasion and aspire to lead our nation instead of dividing it. He hasn’t risen to the occasion. At this point, I realize what we’re dealing with, I think like most Americans.”
In an interview with CNN, Corker accused Trump of “purposely … breaking down relationships around the world.”
After Flake’s big floor speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised the departing senator, stating, “We have just witnessed a speech from a very fine man, a man who clearly brings high principles to the office every day and does what he believes is in the interest of Arizona and the country.”
He said: “From my perspective, the senator from Arizona has been a great team player, always trying to get a constructive outcome no matter what the issue before us.”
Flake’s statements also drew support from Corker and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
McCain said: “I have seen Jeff Flake stand up for what he believes in knowing full well that there would be a political price to pay. I have seen him stand up for his family. I’ve seen him stand up for his forbearers.
“We look all of us at some point in our time that we have spent here, whether it be short or whether it be long, we look back and we think about what we could have done, what we should have done, what we might have done and the mistakes we made and the things we’re proud of. Well, when the Flake service to this country is reviewed, it will be one of honor, of brilliance and patriotism and love of country, and I thank you, and God bless you and your family.”