Five things to know about Senator Jeff Flake before his arrival on campus

Former Senator Flake to speak as part of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series on Thu., Jan. 17

(Photo credit vanderbilt.edu)

Former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake has been no stranger to the political spotlight in recent years. During his term, Flake was considered a vocal critic of President Trump, a defender of bipartisanship, a devoted fiscal conservative, and a wild card who shocked fellow Republicans when he called for an FBI investigation of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh prior to his confirmation to the Supreme Court in Oct. 2018. Ahead of Flake’s Jan. 17 appearance at Langford Auditorium as part of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series, here are five things to know about him:

  1. Jeff Flake, a Republican, graduated from Brigham Young University and served as a missionary in South Africa for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Beginning in 1992 and before entering public office, Flake directed the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think-tank in Phoenix.

  2. Flake was first elected to office in 2000 as a U.S. Representative from Arizona’s first congressional district, a predominantly Mormon section of metropolitan Phoenix. He served six consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, developing a reputation for spending cuts and immigration reform. Flake’s final term in the House ended in 2013, when he began serving in the U.S. Senate. Flake represented Arizona in the Senate as the Junior Senator, serving with John McCain for his 6-year term that began in 2013 and ended with the start of the 116th Congress in 2019. During his Senate term, Flake served on the Energy and Natural Resources, Foreign Relations, and Judiciary Committees.

  3. Flake received national attention in Sep. 2018 for his pivotal role in the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, now an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by psychologist Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Flake was a member, on Sep. 27. A day later, Flake announced his intention to vote “yes” on Kavanaugh’s confirmation despite the allegations. This prompted the headline-catching exchange between Flake and two women when Flake was boarding an elevator in his Senate office building, with the women urging him to change his mind. Later that day, Flake announced that he would vote to advance the nomination to the Senate floor but would only vote “yes” if the vote was delayed one week to allow an FBI investigation into the allegations. Senate Republican leaders agreed with Flake and delayed the vote, but the investigation failed to corroborate Ford’s allegations. Kavanaugh was subsequently confirmed on Oct. 6.

  4. Flake was often seen as a vocal critic of President Trump during his time in the Senate, arguing that Trump “debased” the presidency. However, Flake voted 81% of the time in line with the president, according to FiveThirtyEight. Still, Flake chose not to run for re-election in 2018, in part because of his increasing disenchantment with Trump and the Republican Party. Flake’s October 2017 speech on the Senate floor announcing his choice was labeled by CNN commentator Chris Cillizza as “the most important speech of 2017.”

  5. Flake published Conscience of a Conservative in August 2017, rebuking partisan politics and encouraging a return to traditional conservative principles in policymaking. In part a criticism of President Trump, the book borrowed its title from The Conscience of a Conservative, a 1960 book by former Arizona Senator and 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, the namesake of the institute that Flake directed in the 1990s.

Senator Flake will participate in a discussion with Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos and Distinguished Visiting Professor Jon Meacham titled “The Conscience of a Conservative: Returning to Civil Discourse in American Politics.” The event begins at 6:30pm at Langford Auditorium on Thu., Jan. 17, and is free and open to the public.

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