Senator Flake and Defending Regular Order on Kavanaugh Hearings

JAKE LYONS & VICTOR GAMAS: Three prominent GOP senators — Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) — all publicly opposed last week rushing on a vote to confirm the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

As the president and chief of staff of the Georgetown University College Republicans, we believe the Judiciary Committee’s handling of the nomination hearing has been poor — and members of both parties are to blame.

Senate Republicans’ ultimatum to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — appear for a committee hearing or the vote would be pushed through without knowing more about these allegations — was a mistake. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats had apparently political motivations in leaking the allegations when it was politically convenient, after withholding knowledge of the accusations for as long as they did. Ford’s allegations should have been brought forward to the committee so the FBI could investigate them sooner.

On top of it all, senators’ conduct in this week’s hearings was disappointing to watch. Senate hearings should not look like a reality drama series. The hyper-partisan way in which senators acted degraded the institution of the Senate to an already tense political climate. The Senate should be a stable bastion against political tides that come and go, from populism to hyper-nationalism, especially in the current political climate.

But on Friday, the actions of two senators, one Democrat and one Republican, gave a glimmer of hope for a return to a higher standard of governance in the Senate.

Flake, the deciding vote on the Judiciary Committee, voted to advance the nominee to the floor — with the condition that there would be a one week delay in a floor vote while the FBI conducts an investigation into the allegations raised in the hearings. Flake noteably consulted with his Democratic colleagues, particularly Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, on this decision.

Though Flake could not delay the vote nor initiate the FBI investigation himself, he used his floor vote on leverage to guarantee a fair process. Flake and Coons cut through the atmosphere of partisan rancor to work out a principled compromise. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to delay the vote and petition for the investigation to the White House, which complied.

The FBI’s investigation may very well bring forward evidence that can validate or disprove the claims against the nominee. Regardless of the FBI’s conclusion, the integrity of the Supreme Court will be in better condition. A credible investigation of all available evidence is the proper context for the Senate to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

In our view, Flake is trying to get the Senate to work like it should, to push the Senate to function as the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) famously advocated for: regular order.

Regular order is a back to basics in our governing institutions, where committees and subcommittees hear out all of the relevant information, work across the aisle, and most importantly, respect their colleagues’ opinions. It is not rule by majoritarianism. Instead, both sides of the chamber work together and make principled compromise to advance the interests of the American people. Republicans and Democrats need to build relationships and govern together in partnership, not in opposition.

The Congress has been governed too long by partisan rancor and grievance. It’s not about who shot first, who first made confirmations based more on the climate of politics than the merit of the nominee, or which party is in power. Returning to regular order is a step in the right direction to bridge our political rift. The Senate is meant to be the ideal forum for civil debate, deliberation, and purposeful action that has the best interest of Americans in mind. The Senate is meant to withstand whatever belief polls best or whichever sentiment will rally fringe bases. At its best, it can be a beacon to the nation on how to conduct business with people you might disagree with on policy, but can respect on a personal level.

Senator Flake would have made his late friend and colleague, McCain, proud last Friday. Undoubtedly, this is an imperfect process, but Flake did his duty to make it better. We applaud the senator from Arizona for seeking continuing the process’s deliberation.

We hope the rest of the Senate take this extra time to reflect on the mistakes of the past week and to open mindedly consider the information presented by the FBI. We believe that only a disciplined process in these troubling political times will help ensure the integrity of the Senate and heal our nation’s political wounds.

Jake Lyons and Victor Gamas are the president and chief of staff, respectively, of the Georgetown University College Republicans. They are guest contributors to On the Record. Lyons formerly interned with Senator Corker and Gamas with Senator McCain.

Max Magid