Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) will have a lot on his mind when he delivers the weekly Republican address this weekend. He spoke to National Review Online from Tucson, Ariz., this evening, where he recently attended a funeral service for Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl killed in Saturday’s tragic shooting. “It was a heartrending experience,” he said.
Last night, he attended the televised memorial service at the University of Arizona, which some had criticized for its “pep-rally” atmosphere. Flake said that while the event was “certainly different than most memorials,” he didn’t think the criticism was completely warranted.
“The people of Tucson have been through a lot the past couple of days, and I think it was what a lot of them felt that they needed to do and needed to hear,” he said. “It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I think for those who were there in the community it was cathartic.”
Flake praised President Obama for his “somber” and “appropriate” tone at the service, and a speech that was “one of the best I’ve ever heard him give.”
“I was very moved by it and I know a lot of people were as well,” Flake said. Indeed, Obama’s speech received near-unanimous approval from commentators of all political stripes.
Earlier today, Flake joined Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl on a hospital visit to meet with the dozens of victims still recovering and their family members. The group was unable to visit Giffords, who Flake said was on “quite the schedule now” in regard to her recovery, which has been reported to be nothing short of miraculous.
Flake was reluctant to comment on the politics of the past several days, but did address some of the rhetoric directed at his home state. He half-laughed, half-sighed when told of Tom Brokaw’s remarks on MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier today: “I would be nervous about going into a bar or restaurant in Arizona on a Saturday night, where people can carry concealed [firearms] without permits.”
“Arizona has always been different,” Flake said. “Everyone here has a bit of an independent streak, and that’s what so endearing to those of us who have been hear and to those who are coming,” he said, noting the state’s rapidly growing population (25 percent increase over the past decade).
Flake said he thinks the events of the past few days ought to change some people’s opinions about Arizona. “Out of this tragedy, I think the examples of bravery and heroism and everything else you saw just far, far outweighs the act of one lone gunman,” he said. “And I think people outside the state have witnessed that, like they did last night [at the memorial].”
As for the activity of his colleagues back in Washington, where a number of lawmakers have lined up to introduce legislation in response to the shooting – from stricter gun-controls measures to ramped up security details — Flake called it a “natural reaction, just as there’s a natural reaction to try to ascribe motives to the killer.” But he didn’t think such proposals would get very far. “It’s too soon,” he said. “We’ll see what things look like in a couple of weeks.”
In his address on Saturday, Flake said he would pay tribute to the victims of the tragedy and discuss the inspiring nature Giffords’ recovery and the heroism of individuals like Daniel Hernandez, whose actions may have saved the congresswoman’s life, in the hope that a lasting “spirit of cooperation” can be achieved.
“There plenty of things that we’ll debate on and have really partisan differences on, — and that’s appropriate,” he said. “I think this is a great example of a time when, where we can and should get along and cooperate, we do, and hopefully this kind of tone will continue.”
We asked Flake about the suggestion floated by the independent group Third Way and endorsed by Sens. Mark Udall (D., Colo.) and Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), as well House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), that lawmakers sit together – not separated by party – during President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address. He’s all for it.
“I think that’s a great idea,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s anything that needs to be promulgated or asked. I think it’d be a good idea if members were to just do that on their own.”