Who Is Jeff Flake?
Jeff Flake is a former six-term Arizona congressman who earned election to the Senate in 2012. Initially known for his fiscal and social conservatism, he eventually drew the ire of former supporters for his progressive stance on immigration. Flake also became a high-profile opponent of President Donald Trump, their feud escalating with the senator's pointed criticisms in his 2017 book, Conscience of a Conservative. With his approval rating lagging, in October 2017, Flake announced that he would not seek reelection to the Senate.
Jeffry Lane Flake was born on December 31, 1962, and grew up on a cattle ranch in Snowflake, Arizona, with 10 siblings. The town is in part named for his great-great-grandfather, William Jordan Flake, who founded the settlement in 1878 with Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Apostle Erasmus Snow. Flake's father, Dean, served as town mayor and a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Flake attended Brigham Young University (BYU), taking time off for a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints missionary trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa, where he learned to speak Afrikaans. He earned his B.A. in International Relations in 1986 and his M.A. in Political Science in 1987.
Flake then spent a year with a public relations firm in Washington, D.C., but returned to Africa afterward to serve as executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Namibia.
Back in Arizona, in 1992, Flake became executive director of the Goldwater Institute, a think tank and research organization that aims to promote the former Arizona senator's ideals of limited government, personal responsibility and expanded freedom.
Elected to the House of Representatives in 2000, Flake quickly earned a reputation as a budget hawk, calling out colleagues for unabashedly funneling cash toward earmarks. He supported traditional conservative views with his opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion and became a favorite of the Tea Party movement. He also demonstrated more of an independent streak with his vote to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the military and support of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), fueled by a childhood spent alongside immigrant workers on a ranch.
After six terms in the House, Flake was elected to the Senate in 2012. He went on to serve in the Judiciary Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee, becoming chairman of various subcommittees.
However, Flake also saw his standing erode as a favorite of conservative groups. He was criticized for voting in favor of the 2013 Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), to protect gay and transgender employees, and for signaling a willingness to back President Barack Obama's 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Flake was also one of the bi-partisan "Gang of Eight" that pushed through a Senate immigration-reform bill in 2013, an act that came back to bite him as the Republican Party made a sharper pivot toward anti-immigration policy.
Feud with President Trump
Flake refused to endorse Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign even after other Republicans had fallen in line, denouncing the candidate's harsh rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants. Shortly before the election, Flake called on Trump to withdraw from the race following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which the former Celebrity Apprentice star describes his lewd behavior with women. The rebuke infuriated Trump, who reportedly told advisers that he was willing to devote $10 million toward seeing Flake defeated in the 2018 Arizona Senate primary.
Despite the animosity between the two, Flake compiled a voting record that generally supported the president's stances, including multiple attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. In late 2017, he provided a key vote for a Senate tax reform bill after earning concessions for phasing out business expenses and aiding children of immigrants, helping to secure the bill's passage in December.
Days later, after Trump threw his support behind Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, who was under fire for his alleged romantic advances on teenage girls while in his 30s, Flake tweeted a photo of a check made out to Democratic candidate Doug Jones, the eventual winner, with the caption, "Country over Party."
Senate Resignation Speech
Flake, a first-term Republican senator from Arizona, made headlines when he took the Senate floor on October 24, 2017, to announce that he would not be seeking reelection in 2018.
Over the course of a 17-minute speech, the junior Arizona senator offered a sobering view of the state of American politics, its tone set by President Trump's combative style: “We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal,” he said. “They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”
Critics countered that Flake was lashing out after realizing he stood little chance of earning re-election. His approval rating had dipped to 18 percent, and he was lagging behind Republican primary challenger Kelli Ward in the polls.
Ongoing Feud With President Trump
In an NPR interview that aired in January 2018, Flake said he was unconvinced that Trump would run for a second term, but noted that if the president did so, he could face challenges from both within the Republican Party and from an independent candidate. Flake was noncommittal about whether he would mount one of those challenges, saying, "That's not in my plans, but I don't rule anything out."
Days later, it was announced that Flake would deliver another speech on the Senate floor, this time to denounce the dangers of Trump's conflict with the news media, described by the president as "the enemy of the American people."
"It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies," read an advance excerpt of the speech. "The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him 'fake news,' it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press."
'Conscience of a Conservative'
Another sore point between Flake and Trump stemmed from the senator's 2017 book, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle. Taking its title from a 1960 work by then Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and written largely in secret, the book excoriates Trump for his rejection of free trade policies, as well as his temperamental behavior and support of fringe movements.
Flake also goes after other notable Republicans, like former House speaker turned analyst Newt Gingrich, and scolds his party as a whole for abandoning its core principles and striking a "Faustian bargain" to support Trump's election.
Flake met his wife, Cheryl, while both were freshmen at BYU. They married in 1985, and went on to have five children together: Alexis, Ryan, Austin, Tanner and Dallin. The Flakes live in Mesa, Arizona.
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