Arizona Senator Jeff Flake will discuss the latest issues from Capitol Hill.
Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon; U.S. Senator Jeff Flake will discuss the top issues of the day, including inaction on immigration reform and an attempt to stop an Indian casino in the West Valley. That's next on Arizona Horizon.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The surge of unaccompanied children from Central America has refocused the national spotlight on illegal immigration, and yet comprehensive immigration reform remains elusive with little apparent chance of significant changes happening anytime soon. Here to talk about that and other federal issues impacting Arizona is the U.S. Senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake.
Jeff Flake: Thanks for having me on.
Jeff Flake: Thank you. Before we get started here, your thoughts on the passing of state Senator Chester Crandall. It's really a blow to the state, a blow to Northern Arizona. There are too few members who really represent rural Arizona these days and he did. So it's going to be felt, it really is.
Ted Simons: Okay. Let's get now to happenings back there in Washington. I've heard the critics noting the irony of what they described as the least productive Congress in history taking a vacation. What is going on there?
Jeff Flake: It is, tremendously frustrating to me, particularly in the Senate, which is the most deliberative body in the world, unlimited debate and unlimited amendments. And they can't even bring anything to the floor. It's been a very frustrating experience.
Ted Simons: The President wanting a few billion dollars' emergency funding for the border, where do you stand on that? And where do you think the American public stands on that?
Jeff Flake: I think it is a genuine emergency and a genuine crisis. I think the President and the administration did need additional moneys. I don't think they needed $3.7 billion dollars that was asked for. Having said that we did need additional money, it was an emergency and I was disappointed that we couldn't put together a package before the break. We'll need to do so when we get back there in September.
Ted Simons: As far as the package is concerned, should that include amendments or just somehow changes to the human trafficking law?
Jeff Flake: The President asked for that initially, he backed off somewhat. The supplemental he put to Congress didn't include any of those changes. He needs them, he wants them, and we should give them to him.
Ted Simons: Do you think somewhere lost in the fog lawmakers are -- these are refugees, folks looking for safe haven. Or has that law become a differing definition?
Jeff Flake: I think there are genuine cases of persecution. People who should be granted asylum. Senator McCain and I put forward legislation saying that ought to happen in their home country. We ought to allow the embassies and people in those countries to accept or judge those claims, those genuine cases of asylum. They need not make that dangerous trip north. For those who come here, some will have a genuine claim and some won't. You need a process that works quickly where you don't have to place these kids with sponsors with court dates two years from now. Then you're simply aiding the smugglers because they are able to go back and say, look, a child went across the border, it's been placed with a family member and all is good. Then the situation just perpetuates.
Ted Simons: But, you would agree the country does have a moral obligation to at least fund the current law and make changes when possible.
Jeff Flake: Oh, yes. But the current law we can also expedite this process. We need to fund -- have more judges for example to hear these cases more quickly. That will cost more because the longer you hold these kids in detention, the more it costs. It's cheaper to actually place them with a sponsor because then there's no financial responsibility for the federal government. But having done that, you're just inviting more to come. So it's a bit of a paradox. You will have to spend some money to detain, but you will solve the crisis for the long term.
Ted Simons: As far as the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, I know the critics of that program; we can get into a little bit of that, how it was implemented. But should it be defunded? There's talk that that is the only way Congress can maybe set their will. Do you agree with that?
Ted Simons: No, I didn't agree with the President moving ahead. To put this in place and have those kids in a situation where they are yanked back and forth, where they are here legally, they are able to attend schools or find work and then they are not, going back and forth, that's not a good situation. I believe the President should have worked with the Congress and found a permanent solution. But he didn't. It's been confusing to others and the smugglers and cartels have preyed on that confusion and have basically told parents in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, hey, give your child to us, we'll get them across and they will be able to stay. It's not a good or humane situation for anyone.
Ted Simons: You said you hoped the President would work with Congress. There are some who see the President trying to work with Congress in his own way, and Congress -- at least Republicans in Congress, just saying no to everything. Your response.
Jeff Flake: I think there are some who will just say no to everything. But there are a good number of Republicans who want to find a solution to this. We passed bill out of the Senate. There are a number of people in the House, Republicans and Democrats, trying to find a solution. The problem with the President taking executive action, his authority only goes so far. He can't create a path to citizenship or do any of that, he doesn't pretend that he can. As long as you have a situation where the President can only take temporary steps, it's not a good one. He ought to be patient and work with Congress. When the problem is that the President takes unilateral action like this it breeds distrust in the Congress. People in the House of Representatives say, see, it doesn't matter what we do, the President will ignore it anyway.
Ted Simons: There are some in the House who think the Dreamers, born in Mexico mostly, but raised for their entire lives here, should immediately be deported. That was again debated here. I know it's the House and not the Senate. But your thoughts on immediately deporting Dreamers.
Jeff Flake: I just don't think it's rational or feasible or advisable. I've long felt that we ought to have been supportive of the Dream Act; it was included in legislation I sponsored in the House. It was included in legislation we did in the Senate. I just don't agree with that sentiment.
Ted Simons: Do you think what's happening now with the Central American refugees and DACA, and immigration, should all of those things be linked.
Jeff Flake: You know, I think that this package that the President asked for, we ought to deal with this immediate crisis and not try link everything else to it. Because there is an immediate crisis there's no way you can do the whole thing in a month or in a couple of weeks like we need to. But I hope we return to the broader debate on immigration. I hope that if Republicans are fortunate to take the Senate this fall, then we come back in January and get to work on a package. It'll probably look different than the Senate Bill, probably be piecemeal like the House wanted to do, that's fine. Lest sequence it in a way that we can pass this broad-based reform of.
Ted Simons: You mentioned a bill you are associate very closely with. What the heck happened with that? What's going on with that?
Jeff Flake: We passed it last June, it's been over a year now. We had hoped the House would take it up. None of us expected the House to accept it as it was. I hoped that the House would improve several provisions. There were very good border provisions in that bill. I hoped the House would improve on the guest worker plans to expand, make them bigger. The House for one reason or another hasn't seen fit to take it up. It's unfortunate.
Ted Simons: From a distance, obviously looking from the Senate, the critics are saying the votes are there, but the Speaker simply won't take the vote. That has to be frustrating as well.
Jeff Flake: I think the votes are there. They were very close before the Eric Cantor loss. And that spooked a lot of Republicans in tight primary races. And unfortunately I think that stalled it.
Ted Simons: And you mentioned if the Senate control goes back to the Republicans, you'd like to see this readdressed. If it goes back to Republicans will it be readdressed? That would suggest you may not have that majority, from what you've passed in the past, come to fruition again.
Jeff Flake: I think we will. We had 68 votes in the Senate for the so-called Gang of Eight bill. It won't be the same; it will be more emphasis one place or another. That's fine, but I do believe the votes are there. I think federal they will be there in the House, as well. As a Republican, obviously first and foremost there are substantive policy reasons to deal with this issue. If you want to talk politics, I think it's going to be difficult for Republicans to win nationally if we don't deal with this issue forthrightly.
Ted Simons: You see that -- we read about this all the time, this could be a major impact on the future of the Republican Party. You agree with that?
Jeff Flake: Yes, I do. It's not just that the Republicans need to appeal to a growing demographic, Hispanics in particular. That's important but even more so I think that people in general, whatever race or creed, people expect a governing party, serious national party, to deal rationally with issues and to have solutions. And I think we haven't exactly had that in the past few years.
Ted Simons: You mentioned as well that perhaps going in stages would be a better idea. I know Senator Rubio thinks progressing in stages is the only way to get something done. Do you agree with that now?
Jeff Flake: I believe the House is certainly set on going that direction, and that's fine, we can do that. You can sequence these steps in a way that you can still wind up with broad-based reform. But do it sequentially.
Ted Simons: Always a threat of slow-footing it to where nothing eventually happens.
Jeff Flake: Sure, but it's legislative, you just got to do it.
Ted Simons: Representatives, again I keep going back to the House because the fireworks seem to be happening from the House. We've got other Congressmen now starting to talk about the "I" word, impeachment. What do you make of that?
Jeff Flake: Very little. There are very few actually talking about it, certainly not me. I think the other side kind of plays it up because it's to their political advantage. But no serious Republicans are talking about it.
Ted Simons: So again, if Representative King says impeach the President, if he goes in and offers the deferment of deportations with another executive order. I know there's a lawsuit. Do you think that's Republicans making noise for an election?
Jeff Flake: I do, I do. Our best option is to do well in November and I think we will.
Ted Simons: Do you think the last thing on immigration, seems like it's topic A for everyone. When it comes to securing the border and amnesty, do you think those in the Republican Party see those words defined very differently? How do you get coalition here, if so?
Jeff Flake: I think Republicans believe in the rule of law. We want to get back to the rule of law and you don't have it when you have some 11 million people living here in the shadows or not complying with the law. We need to get back to it. We also need a secure border. I think we need to do all of that obviously it's a tough and complex situation. But you know, sometimes the amnesty word gets thrown around where it shouldn't be thrown around. In the end, I think as Republicans we want to return to the rule of law and actually deal with the issues of the economy and what we need moving ahead. And also, you know, the horrible humanitarian situation we currently have on the border, those things need to be addressed, as well.
Ted Simons: Last question on this Do you think Republicans are starting to move in that direction?
Jeff Flake: I think we have been over the past year. We were very close in the House to having the package we could have dealt with in the Senate and the sent a bill to the President. I think we're moving in the right direction.
Ted Simons: You've introducing a new bill to stop new casinos in the Metro Phoenix area. Why?
Jeff Flake: We talked to Senator McCain about this, he was there, in the Congress when the Indian Gaming Act was passed, and it just wasn't contemplated at that time that you would have the tribes actually put a casino in a noncontiguous part away from the reservation in the middle of a city. That's what's going on in Glendale. We've introduced legislation to block that.
Ted Simons: Despite court rulings and the Department of Interior, I think we kind of know what direction they are going. The Supreme Court in Michigan made a ruling that kind of shows where they are looking. Do you think this is what people in the West Valley want?
Jeff Flake: It may be. The City Council didn't want it before, now the City Council as a counsel does, I think the mayor is still opposed. Other communities in the East Valley and elsewhere are concerned about the precedent this sets. We felt it was important to introduce this legislation.
Ted Simons: Despite the fact that maybe some folks in the West Valley see jobs, building of different industries and businesses maybe around this, a good thing for the economy out there, you say not so fast.
Jeff Flake: Not so fast.
Ted Simons: All right. That's it, huh?
Jeff Flake: Like I say, there are other communities concerned about this and we think that, well, to follow the law here, and there are questions still some courts have to consider this. We'll see where it goes.
Ted Simons: Last question on this. Where does the Indian gaming compact go if this goes through?
Jeff Flake: That's another question, it's all tied together. I can tell you when these laws were passed I don't believe that this was contemplated, this kind of action where a tribe will actually purchase land far away from their own land and put a casino there. It just seems to be not consistent with the law.
Ted Simons: The V.A. reform bill, tell us what went into this. What does it do, how important is it especially for veterans here in Arizona?
Jeff Flake: Extremely important. This is one area where Congress came together and had actually moved legislation pretty quickly. It was important that veterans be given a choice. For those that have waited for care or will wait for care and aren't given a satisfactory response, for them to be able to choose an option outside of the V.A., that's what this legislation does. Also, those who live a long way from a clinic or hospital to be able to access care close to them. That's important; it's a big deal for a lot of veterans. That's provided for in this legislation and funded.
Ted Simons: Indeed, 40 miles I think away from the nearest have a facility allows for that choice. And if you've been waiting 30 days for an appointment allows for that choice. Not a heck of a lot of debate on that?
Jeff Flake: There is. There are a lot of people who swallowed hard to allow this to happen. We thought it was important. I think we owe it to the veterans to make sure they get the care they deserve.
Ted Simons: Among those opposed, Senator Sessions and Coburn concerned about the costs. We're talking $16.2 billion dollars, is it something along those lines?
Jeff Flake: That is a concern. The $10 billion is associated with the choice some will be able to make. But when you think about that, is veterans care that bad, that that many veterans will flee the V.A.? If that's the case then we have a bigger problem than we've admitted. I frankly don't think the costs will be as high as it'll be. I think that the Veterans Administration will respond competition and accountability tends to do that. So I think the cost will be lower than in the bill.
Ted Simons: These were Republicans and also concerned about the cost. Why not wait for the new secretary to get in there, and then figure out what needs to be done and move ahead?
Jeff Flake: There are other parts that the new head, voted on unanimously by the Senate, where he needed the hiring and firing abilities provided for in the law. And I don't care who you put in that position, if they don't have authority to hire and fire you're not going clean up the system. That was part of the legislation, as well. It was important to give him that. But also to have the relief valve of allowing veterans to go elsewhere for care was important, as well. Bureaucracies, unless there's a relief valve or a choice, people have to go outside, just are very rarely fixes.
Ted Simons: And some of the major headlines regarding the V.A. problems starting right here in Phoenix, ground zero for that, the wait times manipulations, does this bill specifically address -- I know it give him the hiring and fourth degree power, but does it address those kinds of things? Veteran accountability?
Jeff Flake: You can never write into law every eventuality and what some people will do. But I think what was done here was contrary to the law. And that will work its way through and those who need to be health accountable will be held accountable.
Ted Simons: Additional V.A. workers, as well?
Jeff Flake: Certainly I think when you have the wait times it's going to require more personnel.
Ted Simons: I haven't seen this particular and I guess it ran shortly here in Arizona. It said this is pushed by Michael Bloomberg and you and a few other senators were targeted on this. The idea of expanding restrictions on handgun purchases, talk to us about this issue. This is another one of those issues that gets people very fired up. Your position on this, and why do you think they targeted you?
Jeff Flake: I don't know I was the target last year of a lot of money that was part of this issue. I've thought for a long time we needed to work on that issue, especially in regards to mental illness. We have a national registry, but too often folks with mental illness are not a part of that registry. Some states do a better job than others. I've introduced legislation long ago with a few other senators on a bipartisan basis to make that system better. And so I guess, because I've said that we ought to strengthen the background check system, some people have felt, well, then Jeff will probably vote for a universal background check system that is more than I think any of us have contemplated. I don't know, I guess that's why.
Ted Simons: Yeah. I know the idea is to look at abusive dating partners, the latest idea, people under restraining orders, convicted stalkers, these sorts of things, not to be able to buy or own guns. What do you think of that idea?
Jeff Flake: The definitely is in the details in all of this. States have very different definitions of stalking, for example, and restraining orders. Right now I believe that legislation would include somebody with a temporary restraining order. Somebody can put a temporary restraining order on somebody without any due process. I think a woman somewhere in the country put a temporary restraining order on David Letterman because she felt he was stalking her or something crazy like that. And to deny somebody their rights when there's no due process involved is dangerous territory. The legislation needs a lot more thorough scrubbing than it's gotten so far.
Ted Simons: Is there is a way to get more due process involved in something like that?
Jeff Flake: Perhaps. We'll have to see what comes forward.
Ted Simons: Much of what we talked about today and talked about in the introduction is the inaction of Congress on immigration and other aspects, as well. What is going on back there? From here it sounds like a bunch of fussing and fighting. I've heard do-nothing Congress numerous times. What is going on back there?
Jeff Flake: It feels like that sometimes. But at the root of it, if you want to know what's at the root of it, at least in the Senate, is the inability or unwillingness of the Senate majority to subject their members to tough votes in an election year in particular. The Senate is a different creature than the House. The rules are different, customs, precedents. You have the benefit of a six-year term, as a senator. I can't tell you how nice it is to not see my name on signs on corners in an even numbered year. With that luxury of a six-year term comes the responsibility to take tough votes. The ones that are tough to explain, some are gotcha votes a 30-second ad can be made out of. Traditionally, it's always been the case, you have six years to explain it and you ought to take those tough votes. So, right now the Senate majority leader is not willing to take those tough votes. When legislation comes to the floor, he will what's called fill the tree, basically prevent any Republican amendments from being attached to the bill. And then Republicans will retaliate by saying we won't grant cloture or allow the bill to succeed, which is a 60-vote requirement until we get amendments on the bill. So, both sides go like this and ultimately nothing comes to the floor. It is very frustrating. At its root is the unwillingness to take tough votes.
Ted Simons: Can it not be argued, why take the tough votes instead of needing 51, you now need 60. I think some people are still confused, since when did the filibuster become a part of the everyday voting pattern?
Jeff Flake: Traditionally it wasn't. The chairman of the committee where the bill would come from, and the ranking minority member would sit down with other members and say, what amendments do you have? And then we're going to schedule three days for the bill on the floor. And you use the clock in the Senate to basically regulate how many amendments come forward. That's how you do business. That's kind of how you do it in the House, as well. Having been in the House, I offered a lot of amendments in the House, the record of futility on a lot of these amendments. But I was allowed to do so. Typically, you haven't invoked the 60-vote threshold unless you absolutely had to. It rarely was because amendments were not allowed. Take for example, the Panama Canal Treaty, tough, tough votes taken there. Some 200-plus amendments were offered and dealt with on the senate floor for one bill. And important legislation needs to be vetted that way. You just understand, you are going to be taking some votes that are tough to explain but you've got six years to do it. I hope we can get back to that.
Ted Simons: I hope we can have you back on the show. Good to see you.
Jeff Flake: You, too.
Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, Thanks so much for joining us. You have a great evening.
In this segment:
Jeff Flake:Senator, Arizona;
STAY in touch
Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: