Arizona senator Jeff Flake saw some of his old colleagues at the House gym who asked him, “Well, who you spending time with in the Senate now?”
“They thought I’d say Pat Toomey or Tim Scott,” Flake told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor this morning. “I said, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Mike Bennet. Not what I expected, but it’s been a great process, and I hope it continues and spreads to other areas, particularly on the budget. Because we’re gonna have to reach a bipartisan agreement on the budget.”
If Flake’s role in the Senate as a bipartisan negotiator has been a surprise to him, it would have also been a surprise to anyone watching his career in the House just a few years back. He made his claim to fame fighting earmarks, one embarrassing example at a time.
His battles earned him acclaim — he was profiled by 60 Minutes as a modern-day Jimmy Stewart in 2006 — but also the ire of colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including GOP leadership.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is Flake’s position on immigration specifically. When then-minority leader John Boehner threw Flake off the House Judiciary Committee in 2007, Flake said it was because he bucked the party line on immigration — he supported comprehensive immigration reform.
“I grew up on a ranch. I grew up working along migrant labor, much of it illegal, at that time. And that shaped my thinking on this issue. I could never look at the population we have here, in Arizona – it’s a big population of those who are here illegally — and put them all in one criminal class. It just has never rung true for me,” he said.
Flake argued that the Gang of Eight’s bill will finally solve the illegal-immigration problem, but under questioning from reporters he may have actually exposed how flimsy the trigger structure in the bill really is.
Miming critics to get Flake’s response, the Monitor’s David Grant asked Flake about the Department of Homeland Security: “These folks have let us down time and time again. They’ve always dropped the ball. They never enforce this. We always put it on the executive branch and they don’t come through. Why is this time going to be different?”
Flake conceded that DHS hasn’t always acted in good faith on enforcing the border. “There was, a while ago, one report where they cited increased apprehensions as a measure of success in one sector and decreased apprehensions as a measure of success in another sector. So they haven’t been exactly straight,” he said.
But this time is different because “we require a plan. They have to submit a plan before anybody achieves RPI status. It has to be submitted. They have to tell us how they are going to reach 90 percent effectiveness. And then, after a fiveyear period, if they don’t, the commission kicks in, the commission makes recommendations,” Flake said.
If DHS does not reach “90 percent effectiveness,” “there are consequences, they kind of lose authority to submit their own plan,” Flake said. “We’ll submit it for them, or this commission will.” He added, “I think there’s significantly more pressure on the Department of Homeland Security now then there has been in the past, and I hope that it works.”
After decades of ineffective enforcement by the federal government, his critics may not have the same hope that Flake does in new bureaucratic plans.