tv Conversations with Retiring Members - Sen. Jeff Flake CSPAN November 24, 2018 10:13pm-10:46pm EST
thank you for your time. rep. crowley: thank you. announcer: c-span also talked with retiring u.s. senator, jeff flake. he talks about his views on president trump and the direction of the republican party. this is 30 minutes. steve: what led to your decision to step down after one term? senator flake: the political outlook. it is a tough time to be here. i never did warm to the president in the campaign or as he governed. and these days you not only have to embrace the president, you have to embrace all of his politics and his behavior in order to get through a republican primary, and that was never in the cards for me. i just could not do it. i would have liked to stayed another term. that would have been it, but not in this environment, not given
the costs i would have had to pay. steve: we will come back to that in a moment, but let's go back to 2000 when you first stepped , foot here in washington as a freshman never of the house. what do you remember? sen. flake: it was heavy times. i just saw another member of my class the other day. mike pence was a member of my class. we were full of vim and vigor, and we felt like we were in control of the house in the senate and the white house as well, something similar to what we have now. but there really was a time during the 1990's, where the ideas were still in ascendance. dick armey talking about flat tax. it was policy driven. i had come from the goldwater institute, so it was driven by excitement about what we could accomplish in the policy round. steve: and early in your first term, september 11, where were you? sen. flake: my wife and i had
flown in from cuba the day before. i've always tried to lift the travel ban on cuba and established diplomatic relations. we came in the night before. my wife just missed her flight to phoenix, so the next day, september 11, she got on a plane out of national airport and flew off, and i went back to the capitol, and i spent the next three or four hours trying to figure out where she was. she ended up in wichita for three days, and i was here in the judiciary committee in the rayburn building in the house when the first plane hit and we watched live as the second plane hit. it was a horrible, horrible time, but good memories as the house and senate came together on the steps of it captitol that
night, and the response was good. i was with george w. bush last week reminiscing about what occurred at that time. it seems like a hundred years away right now. steve: the country at that point was united. does it take a tragedy to bring us together? sen. flake: sometimes. it certainly did at that point, and now it would probably take at least that. but the country did come , together. we voted overwhelmingly to allow the president go forward and go after the taliban in afghanistan. the notion that we could have an overwhelming vote like that and it would take a tragedy, perhaps, i hope it wouldn't, but that is the reality. steve: on june 14, 2017, you were in alexandria, virginia getting ready for a baseball game. what happened that morning?
sen. flake: we had just finished batting practice -- or i had. i was standing between home plate and for space with joe barton when we heard a shot. we heard a shot ring out and we did not know what it was for a few second. we were just looking at each other. it sounded like a gunshot and then someone yelled, shooter, shooter. i remember turning to the dugout and running. that was the only place you could think to go, and watching the bullets pitch off of the gravel in front of me, but knowing i had to get away, so i dove in the dugout and several did after me, and we use belt to apply attorney get to one of the staff members who had been hit in the right leg, but are bullets would go over our head in the dugout, and then steve scalise, we could see him down in the field, but
could not get to him. it was a long eight or nine minutes until the gunfire stopped the shooter was taken , down, and i ran out to steve and used my batting glove to plug up the gunshot wound, and look for the exit wound and never found it. i realized that the bullet stayed in there and did a lot. -- did a lot of damage. that was a tough time and it is - has brought home a lot of problems we have in the country in terms of extreme rhetoric and people getting ginned up to a bunch of middle age man thing baseball and some how see the enemy and opened fire. it is a bad time we are in right now. steve: what was going for your -- through your mind initially? what were you thinking? sen. flake: what i remember when i turned to the dugout to run, i
still remember thinking at that time, us, here? how and why? why would we be the targets? i just remember that thought lingering in my mind. that is what i was thinking. after that, it was to stay out of the gunfire and help our colleagues. and your former colleague, gabrielle giffords a gunshot victim herself. sen. flake: that was fresh on my mind, a few years before, and just a terrible tragedy. i just thought when i got to the hospital later that day with steve, waiting for the doctor to come out and talk about his condition, it was very similar to being in the hospital in tucson with gabby. too many. two just do not want to go through that again. steve: how do we solve the gun problem?
sen. flake: i think there are things we can do that i think most of us all agree on. i was disappointed to learn that one year after las vegas shooting we still have not , banned bump stocks, but the administration has not taken action yet. no-fly, no buy, that is something we can do. anybody who is suspect to be on a no-fly list should not be sold weapon. also we should not allow young people, 18 to 21, to own a handgun -- i'm sorry, an assault weapon, semi automatic, ar-15. they are already prohibited from a handgun, but they should not be able to buy that. so there are things we can do, and we should. steve: you have cast a lot of votes in the house and now in the senate. anything you regret? sen. flake: yeah, i talked about in a book that i wrote last
year. one was the tarp vote. as a taxpayer and as someone representing taxpayers, i thought it was a real front to spend money to give to banks basically to try to cover up a problem. i kind of justify it in that i did not create this problem. i should not be voting for it. but in truth, we were where we were, and it was about the only way out. and i would have voted for it if i had to. but enough of my colleagues did where i did not have to. and that was a cowardly thing on my part. steve: 10 years later, did the program say the economy? sen. flake: yes it did. , i have spoken with hank paulson and george w. bush years later who did not want to do it, but we had to do it at that point.
and i left my colleagues carry my water for me. i regret that. recentlyu of course made a lot of headlines with brett kavanaugh. what is your take away? what is our lesson from that? sen. flake: i think in an earlier era, he would have garnered 95 votes or maybe 97 or 100. but we are in a different era now. one thing that i felt near the end of that process is that we did not have full due process. we could have done more. we republicans should have called for an fbi investigation earlier, and that is why i felt that we ought to hit the pause button and do what we can to make sure that people in this institution felt better about it. i got to that committee that morning and just saw the food fight between republicans and democrats. democrats threatening to walk out of the vote, and thought this was not good.
this is not good for this institution and certainly not good for the court have something who is either going to be rejected or put on the court with a cloud. so i felt that what i did was the right thing. it was not popular at the time, i can to you that. steve: sean hannity said republicans predictably caved and flake flaked in a big way. he bought the democrats more delay under the guise of an fbi investigation. sen. flake: right. that is what my colleagues thought of that. and that is what i heard, believe me, back in the anteroom. i teamed up with chris coons and i wanted some democrats to say we would feel better about the process. we may not change our process, but we will feel better if we have a delay. in the end, the delay proved to be a good thing. the fbi conducted an investigation. some wished it would have been more broad. i wish we would have started it
earlier and had been more broad . it was thorough. i think it helped the country and the court. steve: have you talked to justice kavanaugh? sen. flake: i have not. he did send me a voicemail. thankfully i have looked at what , has happened since he was confirmed, and to see our party kind of spiking the ball in the end zone just does not seem right, just does not seem right. this is an impartial referee we are putting on the court. i thought he gave a magnanimous and appropriate speech at the white house. but the fact that there is even an event to celebrate, with only republicans there, no democrats, i do not think that was right. so i have not said much about it. steve: how would you fix our broken politics? sen. flake: i like the senate one, rules. i love the house. i loved serving there for 12
years. but i wanted to come to the senate because of the filibuster rule, the requirement, neat, -- need necessity, desirability , of forcing the parties together. the senate rules do that. unfortunately, we have made it still difficult and we get by with the barest majorities. but, i think that those rules need to stay in the senate, so i want to get rid of them so we can be a majoritarian institution like the house. i think that would be a big mistake because -- to fix this, the big problems that we got to solve this country, fiscal issues, making social security and medical sustainable, for example, getting this that and -- this debt and deficit under control. those things can only be done if both parties buy in and no one
party will take the risk politically do it. you got to buy in. when you look at previous times whether it is in the 1980's, or with the senate budget act, you've seen when the parties were at their best, when the come together. fortunately, i experienced that when i first came to the senate. i immediately joined a gang of 8 on immigration. we met almost every night for seven months to hammer out a compromise, and then we all protected that bill through the committee process and again on the senate floor, amended it i think 100 times in the committee and a dozen more times on the floor, and passed it 68-32. it is the way the senate used to work. it did not go anywhere in the house, and the senate has not returned to that process on any other issue since. it is a shame. we have got to get back to it. steve: what is your relationship with the senate leadership?
mitch mcconnell and others. sen. flake: sometimes good, sometimes strained. for example, last week, when i called for a delay, that was not well received by leadership. it was not. and there have been other times as well. in the senate you can do that. you have leverage, whether it is on a vote on tariffs or something else. you can use your leverage, as you should. that is what centers do. steve: you are not only a senator, but a reality tv star. [laughter] steve: how did that come about? sen. flake: nine years ago -- well, i will back that up. my entire life i have loved to read survival stories. sailing adventures gone bad. that is my favorite genre. my wife and i talked about whether i can survive on a and she said if
, this is your midlife crisis, well get it over with? , i have ruined myself on a pacific island in 2009 with no food, just a spear to spearfish, and i enjoyed it so much a couple years later i took my two youngest sons, and we had the same experience. and when i got to the senate, i could see very little interaction through the parties , i thought we got to prove that republicans and democrats can get along, so i got with martin heinrich, a good spear fisherman, i thought he could be useful. we teamed up and wanted to go back to the island and prove that republicans and democrats could get along. steve: where did you go? sen. flake: we went back to the marshall islands, where i had done the other two survival experiences. we went to the discovery channel and said we are going to take a camera, and if you want the footage afterwards for one of
your show and they said no, we , want to come film it. for almost a year we planned it. to the ethics process, we had to go through it, that one of our colleagues knowing we were going to do it until we got back. it was an incredible experience. martin is a great guy. we have teamed up on legislation since, health issues, public lands issues, and we had a machete between us. and that was about it. it was tough, especially with no water. you could only drink coconut water for so long. but we got back, he went on a
circuit to promote the show, rival survival, that the discovery channel aired between versions of "naked and afraid," which we were certainly not make it, afraid, yes. but we went on "letterman" and stephen colbert ran a clip, of us eating raw clam there, and then said, proving that republicans and democrats can get along if death is the only option. empirically, we have proven it. steve: what did you learn about your colleague from new mexico? senator flake: he can build a good shelter. he was an engineer and is very good at that. the first night we got there, it was torrential rain and we needed it. and you know, they say that it is tough to question your colleagues' motives if you know their wife's name, their kid's name, if you know something about them, and i found that to certainly to be the case. that the more you know about your colleagues, the more you can trust them, and that is what has been missing here for a long time, trust that people will not take the process and use it to their ends and shut others out, trust you can get to the solution eventually if you can work together. and that is what led chris coons and me last week to do what we
did. chris and i have traveled together a lot, particularly in africa, where we both spent part of our youth. and i know chris and trust him, and he says the same, and so i think we need more of that. i don't know how many of us can maroon ourselves on deserted islands, but we ought to spend more time with each other and trust each other a little more. steve: let me take that one step further. how did you and senator coons develop that relationship? senator flake: we serve on the foreign relations committee, he chaired the africa subcommittee before i got to the senate and the first two years it was here. and when republicans took control i chaired it. and we traveled and we have sponsored legislation together on wildlife preservation, economic sanctions to try to push zimbabwe in the right
direction, so we worked together on these things, as well as some others on the judiciary committee. and so i knew him well enough that when he gave his speech, i knew that was intended for me, and he acknowledges that. and it did move me. that we could work together, on what they were requesting, a one-week delay, limited in time and scope would be acceptable. so that is what encouraged me to get up and ask him to go to the anteroom. steve: and then what? senator flake: well, we talked, and soon attracted attention when my side of the aisle realized something was afoot, and that i might not be a yes vote. so a lot of my colleagues came forward and said what sean hannity did, this would lead to
more allegations coming forward, this would be an endless loop that we can't get through, we cannot do this, and they had every reason why we should not. but i felt strongly that we could, and chris back that up, and chris kept up his side of the bargain. he went out and said good things about it, saying we would all feel better if we had this investigation. so i went and voted to move it along the process, but only if we had an fbi investigation. and susan collins, lisa murkowski called and said they would back me up, and that it was all it took. the leadership had to deal with us. steve: when you saw leader mcconnell, what did he tell you? senator flake: [laughter] the effort was to keep it to the time frame where we could vote the next day and do a very quick fbi investigation. we said no, it has to be up to
one week, it does not need to be one week, it does not need to be more than a week. but i can say the leadership was not happy. they weren't, but they knew that was the only way they might be able to get our vote. and so we presented it and they had to accept it. steve: do you think, looking back, that senator feinstein should have at least had a conversation with chairman grassley about the letter early on? senator flake: i do. i am not one who believes that she is the one who leaked it. i have dealt with her for a long time, and i think she did her best to protect dr. ford. but somebody leaked it at some point, and that was really not fair to dr. ford. but i do think it would have been better had they sat down early on and said, here is the allegation, let's treat it in a way that really honors the institution and honors those who are involved. steve: we are in the russell senate office building. should it be the mccain senate office building? senator flake: i would like
that. i think it would solve a number of other purposes. john mccain needs to be recognized here, and that would be an appropriate way, i believe. steve: do you remember the first time you met him? senator flake: it was memorable, when i was here as an intern. i was not his intern, i was , dennis deconcini, the democratic senator from arizona, i was his intern. the democratic senator from -- i was his intern. i joked that mccain's standards were too high, and i could not make it under. i met him during that time, i admired him from afar in arizona, certainly when i was there but i had been away at
school, but i had been out of state for a while. i was immediately impressed and given his history and what he had been through. over the years, that admiration only grew and it has been a real honor for the last six years to have served with him. steve: he had the seat barry goldwater once had. senator flake: so do i. barry goldwater held both seats. [laughter] so we always, it is a bit of trivia but he held it immediately after. goldwater ran for president and vacated the seat, then ran for the other one. so both senators can say they held goldwater's seat. but senator mccain, he was a lot like goldwater in so many ways. steve: the goldwater legacy in the country, and in the republican party, what is it? senator flake: rugged individualism, libertarian leaning, independent conservatism. kind of shortened as arizona conservatism, i guess, where you obviously believe in principles of limited government, economic freedom, individual responsibility, but with a maverick flair, i guess. steve: you will walk out these doors for final time in december. what do you think you will be thinking?
senator flake: that this has been a real honor and a privilege. i am not leaving because i do not like the institution or the people. this is a wonderful system that we have here. it is a system that is so good that it corrects the foibles of all of us who make our way through it. so i will leave here with more respect for the institution that an i came here with, and with a real appreciation for the friendships that i have had on both sides of the aisle. just wonderful people here, i hope that we can get along better and do more. you know, make us worthy of the institution that this is. steve: what is next? senator flake: i plan to stay involved, certainly, but after 18 years it is time for a little break, at least while the fever
cools. so i get reacquainted with my friends and family that i have not spent enough time with. our youngest child, we put on a plane last week for a mormon mission. so we are empty nesters, officially. my wife reminds me we did this completely backwards. we raised five kids during the past 18 years while i traveled back and forth. but it just says what a wonderful woman she is, and what she did put up with during this time. but obviously there are sacrifices, but there are a lot of advantages that come as well. we have been very blessed. steve: your faith is very important. senator flake: it is. steve: one final question because you were in new , hampshire. are you thinking about running for president? senator flake: every senator thinks of that. some not very seriously, i am probably one of those. having said that, i hope that someone does run in the primary against the president. i think the republicans need to
be reminded of what conservatism really is, and what it means to be decent. and we have not had that kind of politics. and i fear for the future of the party, if we do not remember who we are and what principled conservatism really is. and decency, we have got to get back to it. and the mccain, that whole week of the commemoration of his life and his politics was just an additional reminder of the stark differences there are sometimes in politicians. and i think we as the republican party certainly have to get back to that kind of decency that has not characterized the party for a while. steve: because some say it is the party of trump, wouldn't the
gop embrace that message? senator flake: it's disturbing. the president is who he is and i am not sure he will change. but the disturbing thing is, you see him at a rally, it is not -- at a rally, the disturbing thing is not what he says anymore, it is the cheers from people behind him. and the chants of lock her up, that is unseemly. it does make me fear that it will be a longer process to get out of this than it should be. but we will. we have to. anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy. and ultimately, voters will again value those who can govern, and those who treat each other with respect. we have to, because we have too big of problems to solve than we can do with one party. we have to, because we have too steve: if you were to run, do you know what you would be up against? senator flake: sure. an entire machine. president's party,
no doubt. and to run around the country, you have to embrace the president's policies and condone his behavior. that is the bottom line right now, but it will not always be that way. and over time, we will realize where we need to go. steve: for you or anyone who would challenge him, what is the timeline? senator flake: in normal times, you get started after the midterms. but that is not necessarily the case here. you know, depending on what the economy is like, what else goes on with foreign policy, investigations, whatever those all could impact things for a far longer time frame than perhaps we are used to. so i do hope there are other candidates out there, if nothing else to remind republicans what we used to and will need to stand for if we are going to be a major force in the future. steve: but you are at least interested or considering it.
senator flake: well, i am not ruling it out, but i need a break. steve: what is the first thing you will do when you leave? [laughter] senator flake: i do not have to worry about a schedule coming back, and being able to spend a couple of weeks in the wintertime in arizona, which is a good place to be. steve: senator jeff flake, thank you. senator flake: thanks for having me here. >> when the new congress starts in january there will be more than 100 new members. the democrats will control the house, the republicans, the senate. a new congress, new leaders. watch the process unfold on c-span. mark green,kers, administrator for the u.s. agency for international development talks about foreign aid, his goal to make this a done necessary eventually, and getting other countries to embrace u.s. policy goals. >> you spent a lot of time talking about how the goals
should be to eliminate the need for foreign aid by encouraging resiliency, so that countries can weather disasters. a half, give ad concrete example of where you have made the most progress. internally, i think we have made a 10 of progress in terms of reshaping ourselves around that mission. we took the opportunity of the executive order to redesign government to embrace that. members fromaff across the agency, including about 300 from overseas. and we looked at designing metrics that measure capacity in countries. we have looked at realigning some bureaus to be more responsive to that vision. in terms of concrete results, i would point to ethiopia. you and i traveled together to ethiopia not long after i got into the office. take a look at a place like ethiopia, which has had four consecutive years of drought and
yet not fallen into full famine. i credit some work we have been able to do in building resilience in some of those drought-afflicted areas to help them understand challenges there. that would be one concrete example, but i could point to other things. in peru, for example, the work ae are doing to fight coc production. we have helped them provide alternative economics and livelihoods for coca farmers. when we started off we were doing the funding and out they are doing the funding largely, and we are helping with technical assistance and connecting them to markets. so in that part of peru and on say score, i would they are developing. we know in some cases it is going to be a long time, but there are countries like peru,
like india, which are largely self-reliant. we are helping to catalyze it best and take it to the next level. newsmakers with mark green, administrator for the u.s. agency for international development, sunday at 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. eastern on c-span. now, a discussion on how the new, 116th congress could impact defense spending. from the brookings institution, this is an hour and a half. michael: good morning and welcome to brookings. i'm michael o'hanlon with the foreign policy program. thanks for joining us to talk about the u.s. defense budget in the aftermath of big changes, including the midterm elections, but also rethinking within the trump administration about how much they want to spend on the military. we have a fantastic panel to