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Flake to Senate: 'We Have Lit a Match... Do We Appreciate How Close the Powder Keg Is?'

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) speaks about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on the Senate floor on Sept. 26, 2018. (Senate Television via AP)

WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee member Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) chided his colleagues for feeding a frenzy around Thursday’s hearing that has led to his family receiving death threats.

In a floor speech today, Flake argued that the Senate has lost sight of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and accuser Christine Blasey Ford being human beings in order to “put them through the grinder that our politics requires — we seem, sometimes, to even enjoy that.”

“For the past two weeks we have certainly seen that happen to both of these human beings, for whatever reason – because we think we are right and they are wrong, because we think that our ideological struggle is more important than their humanity, because we are so practiced at dehumanizing people that we have also dehumanized ourselves,” he said. “…These people are not props for us to make our political points, nor are they to be ‘demolished like Anita Hill’ as was said on conservative media the other night. Nor is one them a ‘proven sex criminal’ as has been circulating on the left side of the Internet.”

Flake reminded fellow senators that “we can govern our own behavior as we go through this painful hearing tomorrow, and the days afterward — we must do that, lest we do even more damage.”

He noted that “some of the public comments about both of these witnesses have been vile” and both Ford and Kavanaugh have reportedly received death threats. “And for that we should be ashamed. The toxic political culture that we have created has infected everything, and we have done little to stop it,” he added. “In fact, we have only indulged it, and fanned the flames, taken partisan advantage at every turn, and deepened the ugly divisions that exist in our country.”

“These past two years, we have tested the limits of how low we can go. And my colleagues, I say to you that winning at all costs is too high a cost. If we cannot have a human – rather than a political – response to these witnesses, if we are heedless to the capacity that we have to do real and lasting damage, then maybe we shouldn’t be here.”

After Flake initially said Ford should testify before the committee prior to a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, a man called his office “saying that he was tired of me ‘interrupting our president’ and that for the offense of allowing Dr. Ford to be heard, for this offense, me and my family would be ‘taken out.’”

“I mention this with reluctance, but only to say that we have lit a match, my colleagues,” Flake said today. “The question is, do we appreciate how close the powder keg is?”

Flake said he hasn’t made up his mind on the credibility of Ford and Kavanaugh before Thursday’s hearing because “I am not psychic. I am not gifted with clairvoyance. Given these limitations, I will have to listen to the testimony before I make up my mind about the testimony.”

“What I do know is that I don’t believe that Dr. Ford is part of some kind of vast conspiracy from start to finish to smear Judge Kavanaugh, as has been alleged by some on the right,” the senator continued. “And what I do know is that I don’t believe that Judge Kavanaugh is some kind of serial sexual predator, as has been alleged by some on the left.”

Flake added that he doesn’t believe a claim of sexual assault “is invalid because a 15-year-old girl didn’t promptly report the assault to the authorities, as the president of the United States said just two days ago.”

“How uninformed and uncaring do you have to be to say things like that, much less believe them? Do we have any idea what kind of message that sends, especially to young women? How many times do we have to marginalize and ignore women before we learn that important lesson?” he asked.