Updated on October 2 at 12:32 p.m. ET
As the Senate awaits the results of the FBI investigation into the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Jeff Flake, one of the lawmakers who spurred the inquiry, criticized the judge Tuesday for his recent appearance in the upper chamber.
Speaking with Jeffrey Rosen, the president of the National Constitution Center, and Democratic Senator Chris Coons at The Atlantic Festival on Tuesday morning, Flake called the judge’s interactions with lawmakers “sharp and partisan.”
“We can’t have that on the Court,” said the Arizona senator, who didn’t elaborate on which interactions he was referring to.
Flake’s “gentleman’s agreement” with Coons, from Delaware, led to the FBI reopening its investigation into Kavanaugh late last week. The bureau is examining the sexual-assault allegations of Christine Blasey Ford, who also testified on Thursday.
I caught up with Flake briefly as he left the event, and asked if this meant he would not vote to confirm Kavanaugh, even if the FBI cleared him by week’s end. He appeared rattled, and his handlers rushed him into the stairwell. “I didn’t say that …” he stammered. “I wasn’t referring to him.”
Flake seemed to be wavering in recent days over his willingness to confirm Kavanaugh. On Friday afternoon, mere hours after stating he would vote to send the judge’s nomination to the Senate floor, he struck the agreement with Coons, and urged his colleagues to support the week-long probe before moving forward.
Flake explained his anguish late Friday night in an interview with my colleague McKay Coppins. Even after he’d signaled his intent to vote “yea” on Friday morning, Flake said, he remained “unsettled” by the lack of clarity surrounding the allegations. He began to warm to Coons’s idea for a brief investigation. “If it was anybody else, I wouldn’t have taken it as seriously. But I know Chris … We trust each other,” Flake explained. “And I thought, if we could actually get something like what he was asking for—an investigation limited in time, limited in scope—we could maybe bring a little unity.”
On stage Tuesday morning, Coons and Flake both expressed dismay about the partisan brawling over Supreme Court nominees. Coons called for “reduc[ing] the frequency with which we describe judges as wearing red or blue jerseys.” He argued that senators need to commit to reviving the practice of confirming nominees based on their qualifications, not ideology.
Speaking about politics more broadly, Flake echoed that sentiment: “We’ve got to come to a point again where failure to compromise … is punished at the ballot box, rather than rewarded.”