Look, my problem with Sen. Jeff Flake’s harshly critical op-ed about President Donald Trump is not that Flake voted to gut Obamacare.
I get it: Flake, who represents Arizona, is a conservative, so we shouldn’t expect him to “resist Trump” by voting against legislative initiatives he’d have backed under any Republican president.
But if Flake is so concerned about Trump, what exactly is Flake doing to hold him accountable?
Even evaluating Flake by the standards laid out in his own op-ed, or against the substantial number of other Republicans in Congress who have done a fair bit to hold Trump in check, Flake is falling down on the job.
For example, Flake writes that Republicans need to resist Trump’s trade protectionism. But Flake voted to confirm Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s nominee to be the United States Trade Representative. Republican Sens. John McCain and Ben Sasse voted against Lighthizer and wrote a letter explaining that his insufficient support for NAFTA was the reason. Why didn’t Flake join them?
Flake also voted to confirm Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary, even though Ross has advocated for greater trade restrictions, especially with China.
Flake worries about Trump’s “seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians,” and this is likely why he voted to restrict Trump’s ability to relax sanctions on Russia – joining every other Republican senator except Rand Paul. But what has he done about this affection that his colleagues – the ones he criticizes for being “in denial” – have failed to do?
At the very beginning of Trump’s term, Flake assented to Rex Tillerson’s appointment at the State Department, despite signs that Tillerson shared Trump’s intention to prioritize friendly relations with autocratic countries over the promotion of human rights. Flake sits on the Foreign Relations Committee but has not used that perch to push the president to choose personnel who will oppose autocrats.
There are Republicans in the Senate – Richard Burr and Chuck Grassley come to mind – who have been measured in their rhetoric but have taken substantial actions to hold Trump accountable for his lawlessness. Others, like Paul and Lisa Murkowski, have sought to block some of his policy initiatives.
Flake is taking a less impressive approach: Complaining loudly about Trump and doing very little about him.