Flake: Calls for Nuclear Option to Move Legislation in Senate are ‘Silliness’

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) arrives on Capitol Hill on Aug. 2, 2017, for a closed-door meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he fears that Senate Republican leaders might extend the “nuclear option” to legislation, calling it “silliness.”

President Trump has urged Republicans to use the nuclear option on issues such as replacing Obamacare.


“Repeal & Replace…and go to 51 votes (nuke option), get Cross State Lines & more,” Trump tweeted in July.

In a separate tweet, Trump wrote, “If the Senate Democrats ever got the chance, they would switch to a 51 majority vote in first minute. They are laughing at R’s. MAKE CHANGE!”

Flake was responding to a question about ambassador nominations currently held up in the GOP-led Senate.

“My own philosophy has been the president ought to have his picks unless there is an extraordinary reason otherwise, and so I voted for many whom I haven’t agreed with philosophically or otherwise – but I think the president ought to have his pick,” Flake said during a recent Council on Foreign Relations discussion on the role of Congress in foreign policy.

“I can tell you that with the employing of the nuclear option, it really poisoned the well here and it made it difficult for Republicans to just take that and not slow up other things. And I hope that when we get into the new Congress that we get beyond this – this silliness,” he added.

Flake, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he hopes Senate GOP leaders do not change the rules of the Senate to allow the nuclear option to be used for the passage of legislation.


“My own view, in general, just on kind of the broader of where the Senate is going—I love the traditions and customs of the Senate, particularly the fact that virtually everything is done by unanimous consent or a large-enough supermajority that requires and enables more comity and cooperation – that’s been the traditional Senate,” he said.

“I fear that if we have this dysfunction much longer that it won’t hold, that people will come in with proposals to expand the nuclear option to regular legislation. The Senate will become a pale version of the House and those who enacted those changes will be applauded for it, because it’s that as opposed to the complete dysfunction that we see now,” he added.

Flake explained that he would like to see the Senate work once again without drastic rule changes.

“I hope that we can get together. I’m participating, as are others, in small groups trying to find a way forward, whether it’s by small rule changes or behavioral changes, mostly, where we can get the Senate working again – not just to approve nominees more quickly but to actually consider and amend legislation on the floor and let the votes fall where they may,” Flake said.


“Judge Bork, Clarence Thomas, Judge Alito, Judge Roberts all came to the floor, and it wasn’t whether they were approved or not – in the case of Bork – it wasn’t by filibuster,” he added. “We had some of the most controversial things that have come forward and just not too long ago that was an up-or-down vote. Because not too long ago, people would not have considered using a 60-vote threshold to block this kind of thing – and we’ve just got to get back to that in the Senate.”


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