Senator Jeff Flake

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Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake will discuss the latest issues, including the raising of the American flag over the U.S. Embassy in Cuba for the first time in 54 years.



TED SIMONS: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon, Senator Jeff flake joins us in-studio to discuss, among other things, the Iran nuclear deal and moves to improve America's relationship with Cuba. U.S. Senator Jeff flake next on Arizona Horizon.

Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening. Welcome to Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Consumer confidence in Arizona is at its highest level since the recession began eight years ago. The state still lags national consumer confidence numbers, but economists say that Arizona's improvement reflects optimism over the job market and less negativity over business conditions. Therefore, notes that the state's good feelings are highly concentrated in Maricopa County, with Pima County and the rest of the state less optimistic. And a new home building permit in the Phoenix area, increased 55% last month. That's according to the Phoenix housing market letter, which reports that the valley is now 39% ahead of last year's home building pace. The medium price for a new home is up to 300,000. That's 83,000 more than for existing homes. Arizona Senator Jeff flake announced that he will oppose the Iran nuclear deal. Senator Flake made the announcement after returning from Cuba, where the U.S. flag was raised above the American embassy for the first time in 54 years. Here now to discuss those and other issues is U.S. Senator Jeff Flake. Good to see you again. Thanks for being here.

JEFF FLAKE: Nice to be here.

TED SIMONS: Let's get going here. The Iran nuclear deal, you come out this weekend and you say you are opposed, one of the last holdouts here on the republican side. Why are you opposed?

JEFF FLAKE: I think the nuclear side of it is pretty good, frankly. I had hoped to be able to support a good deal. I have supported the negotiations all along, but what concerned me most about it, was on the nonnuclear side, I felt that the agreement tied our hands in Congress. Makes it very difficult for us to respond to any nefarious behavior that Iran might inflict on the region. We have seen a lot of that in the past. I didn't think that it was right to tie our hands that way.

TED SIMONS: So the idea of including inspections in the restrictions and that sort of thing, you were onboard?

JEFF FLAKE: Yes, particularly, with Iran's known nuclear sites. The inspection regime was tight. When it came to the suspected sites, a little looser, but on the whole, although there were deficiencies, on the nuclear side, I thought the agreement on the whole was probably worthy of support, but when the President and the administration said that we're going to separate. You know, this is a nuclear deal, and we will deal with the other activity, later, or separately, it's tough to do that, particularly, because I think what this will do is make is very difficult to challenge Iran's behavior in the region. Because if we do, then they will simply say that we're out of our obligations on the nuclear side. The leverage really moves to Iran, in that regard.

TED SIMONS: And yet, without a deal. It sounds like other allies are going to go ahead and lift the sanctions on their own which would leave us the only one out there. Would that not be worse? They are up to nefarious activities with the deal. They certainly would be up to it without it, wouldn't they?

JEFF FLAKE: For those of my colleagues who say, we can just easily go back to the negotiating table, it's not going to be that easy. There were no good outcomes here. I think that it's going to be tough to get back there because all of our allies, as you mentioned, want to go forward with this deal. But I think that we, obviously, hold the strongest hand here still. Particularly, with financial sanctions, on Iran. Make it difficult for them to move money around the world. We're still the world's reserve currency. That means something. Iran wants to be part of that. And so, I think on the nuclear side, frankly, Iran doesn't have as much incentive to cheat big there. They will probably cheat small. But, not much incentive there, but what I worry about is their activity in the region. And how that plays in the overall agreement. I think that we have got to make it tighter in order to make it a good agreement. Make it durable, as well.

TED SIMONS: So, let's say that the deal were approved. Everything goes through, and Iran is found to be just funneling money into Hamas and into Yemen and other areas of influence. The U.S. doesn't want this or like this. This agreement says that we cannot impose sanctions separate and apart from nuclear on these activities. Is that what you are saying?

JEFF FLAKE: The administration will say yes, we still have all the tools. We don't get rid of any tools that Congress has to impose sanctions on Iran, if they conduct activities outside of the nuclear sphere. But that's not what the agreement says. The agreement says, in pretty plain text. Iran has already stipulated that that is their understanding of the agreement that if we impose similar or the same sanctions that we have on Iran, they will consider that a breach of the agreement. That relieves them of their obligations on the nuclear side. And that's where I think that we move the leverage from us now to Iran because we'll be very reluctant to challenge Iran on those items. And to tell you how reluctant we will be, right now, we have sanctions called the Iran sanctions act. Those sanctions expire next year. They will no longer be in effect. If Iran misbehaves on the nuclear side, their so-called snap-back sanctions or the opportunity to snap back, but if this act expires next year, there will be fewer sanctions to snap back to, and so Congress has said well, why don't we reauthorize the sanctions now, and they will be waved, but should Iran misbehave, we'll have sanctions to snap back to. The administration is saying no, don't do that. Because Iran will consider that a violation of the agreement. If we are, if we are reluctant to challenge Iran's interpretation of the agreement now, how more reluctant will we be when the agreement is in place to challenge their behavior in the region.

TED SIMONS: And so critics will say, that's an interesting argument. They will nod their heads and say yes, that leaves military activity as the only option.

JEFF FLAKE: I don't believe that. I think that Iran has every incentive, like I said, to behave on the nuclear side. Iran has been a threshold nuclear power for a while. They have been within months or a year away from having enough material to build a bomb or two, for years. And they have not taken that last step because they feared the reaction of the U.S. or its allies. And so, I think that for those saying the only option is war, I think that's overstated.

TED SIMONS: How much pressure did you get from the Republican parties, especially the conservative side of the party? We saw some ads. We heard that there was -- there was pressure on you. Again, people will hear this and say oh, he's just another Republican, not going to give Obama any success.

JEFF FLAKE: You know, I started out, like I said, in support of this agreement, very few of my colleagues were. And I said, from the beginning, I would like to support a good agreement. I don't think it's a comfortable position for us to be in on the other side from virtually all our allies, except Israel. It's not a good position to be in. And I hate the fact that we will have an agreement, which will likely still go into effect, go into effect with just a bare plurality of partisan votes. That's not good for our foreign policy. I would have liked to have been there, but I just couldn't get over this institutional problem that we have. Now, had this been a treaty. I think that this should have been a treaty, then you could bind future Congresses and future administrations because it's a treaty. The administration didn't want to go that route. If it had been a treaty, and these issues that I'm talking about, they could have been clarified, with a treaty, we passed something called the rudds or reservations, understandings and declarations where we say here's our understanding of the agreement. Had we had a treaty, we could have done that and clarified this issue, like I said, but the administration didn't want to go that direction, so I said, to the administration, if we can't pass rudd's, come to the Congress and work with us on parallel legislation. That could be passed to clarify these issues. I wrote to the President, as early as February, saying how are we going to do this to make sure that this is binding on future administrations. I went to Susan rice weeks ago when the agreement was announced. I have talked to other members of the administration. The last attempt was on the flight to Cuba when I spoke to secretary Kerry trying to bring them around to work with the Congress now to clarify some of this, but I haven't been successful there.

TED SIMONS: Last point on this, you mentioned working with the Congress numerous times. And yet, Democrats will say every time that the President tries to work with Congress, its a brick wall. First of all, is that a valid criticism. Second, can you understand the administration saying, we have got to do whatever we can because if it's not a brick wall, it's going to be some sort of speed bump that never gets us to where we need to go.

JEFF FLAKE: It's tough to pass a treaty. But, it's done. Start two was the last one 2010. It's tough, but it should be tough. And I think if the Congress and the administration will work with Congress, instead of simply saying, we're going to go it alone completely. I said to the secretary Kerry in a recent hearing. He said that his concern is, you cannot have 535 secretaries of state. That is true and all of us in Congress will act like that if given the chance. There are many points in between that and completely ignoring Congress, until you have to. You can deal with committees of jurisdiction. We have the Senate foreign relations committee. There are a lot of individuals who are willing to work with the President there. Myself and another democrat have been sponsoring authorization for use of force or AUMF language for a while. The Senate Republicans gave the President enough votes to have -- to go into Syria and to strike there. We can and have and will work with the President if he will work with us.

TED SIMONS: Are there enough Senate votes to override a veto?

JEFF FLAKE: I doubt it. As it stands, I have thought that for the last few weeks that the President probably has the votes to sustain a veto.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned Cuba. You just returned from Cuba from the embassy. First of all, describe the scene there. What was it like?

JEFF FLAKE: You know, what was really interesting is when we found out that we were going to be doing this around this time, the administration had let me know a few months ago that there were three marines who had been in Cuba in 1961. Who had actually physically lowered the flag in 1961, and had since that time wanted to go back and raise the flag back up.

TED SIMONS: Wow.

JEFF FLAKE: And so they were on our flight. And they came there, they're near 80 years old, all three of them. They were there to hand off the flag for it be raised up again. It was just an incredible experience, it really was.

TED SIMONS: I am assuming oppressive heat, it's Cuba in the summertime, but other than that, was there excitement? Was there trepidation? Were there protests? What was it like?

JEFF FLAKE: It was a huge crowd outside of the embassy, just there to watch this historic moment. There were people that were working on this issue. If I think that I've been working on it a long time, 15 years, Many of these people were working on there for 54 years, and it was just, just really emotional to see them finally achieving what they set out to do. This is not going to end the problems that we have with the Cuban Government. They still have human rights abuses that need to be addressed. They are not anywhere close to having a democratic Government. This is still a communist dictatorship. We have a much better chance of pressing those issues when we have diplomatic relations and when Americans are free to travel back and forth.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned how long you have been working on this. Why has this been such a focus of concentration for you?

JEFF FLAKE: I have always just thought, as a Republican You know, we have preached the -- gospel of commerce engagement and travel. Yet we've said, in Cuba, it's not going to work. It seemed like a big glaring inconsistency in our foreign policy, and plus I took a poll of Cuban Americans in Arizona and both said move right ahead We like what you are doing. -- I always thought that this policies too much controlled by only those with interests in it. They should have an interest. Some of them have a very keen interest, as they should, but when you are telling all Americans that they can't travel to Cuba. Then you probably ought to have a broader coalition supporting that policy. We never did.

TED SIMONS: Representative Matt Salmon from here in Arizona calls it, his words, moral cowardice to first not insist on liberty for the Cuban people before these types of actions. He says he's comparing this to opening talks with North Korea. Is he wrong?

JEFF FLAKE: I think more appropriate comparison would be with China. We did it in the 70s. Certainly China did and still has human rights' problems and issues that we ought to deal with. I think we recognize we are better able to press those issues with diplomatic representation there. Another would be with Vietnam. We fought in a pretty difficult war there. The feelings pretty raw. And still for the past 20 years, secretary Kerry mentioned while we were there, with Vietnam 20 years ago we established diplomatic relations. We said, let's not be prisoners of the past on this. Yet, with Cuba it's persisted until now. I just think that we have a better chance to engage them on those issues in a meaningful way, with diplomatic representation.

TED SIMONS: And yet those again, the critics of this move say it sends the wrong signals to Russia and to China. If we don't take this opportunity -- if we have the opportunity to open up an embassy. We have the opportunity then to really demand serious change as far as liberty is concerned.

JEFF FLAKE: Let's talk about what we're demanding here. With regard to Cuba, the meaningful sanctions are not on Cubans. They are on Americans to tell Americans here's where you can travel and here's where you can't. That's just wrong. If somebody is going to limit my travel, it should be a communist. That's their province. But my Government is too good for that. Unless there is a compelling national security reason otherwise. Americans should be free to travel wherever they want. Plus, if you want to punish the Castro brothers, make them will deal with spring break once or twice. That would be fitting.

TED SIMONS: Talk about moral cowardice. Let's keep it moving here. I know this business with the Salt River horses has been delayed, removing. Why is the forest service now pushing for this?

JEFF FLAKE: I think that we are seeing some pressure from some environmental groups that the horses are detrimental to the environment there. Maybe they responded to that. It seemed strange to all of a sudden say we're going to round them up. I think frankly in this case hold your horses here. Just listen to those that you know, that find great enjoyment in seeing this iconic picture of the west. I think that we can deal with the issues to the extent that there are issues with the environment and still allow it to happen.

TED SIMONS: We just had heard the Audubon Society saying these horses are destroying the natural habitat. The forest service says these are feral strays, livestock. It's not really wild animals out there. The Audubon Society is saying, young Cotton Wood trees and the Willow trees in the riparian areas, the horses are just eating that stuff up, and it's not good.

JEFF FLAKE: Like I say, I think that to the extent that there are environmental issues, we can deal with them, as we do in other areas where we have grazing or other activities that go on, and so I think that we need to keep them where they are.

TED SIMONS: Is congressional action possible on this issue?

JEFF FLAKE: I don't think that we need that. The forest service has already come and said, we're going to hold off. So they are going to study the issue more. We know that when the Government decides to study an issue, they take a while.

TED SIMONS: Also on the Wildlife front, Cecil, the lion, he was the lion, he was a well-known lion. Obviously killed by a hunter. Your thoughts on this issue?

JEFF FLAKE: I don't know what kind of hunter gets his jollies shooting a lion with a collar on it, but be that as it may. When you talk to these countries, particularly in southern Africa, that have special healthy Wildlife herds. Can more effectively manage and preserve by -- using hunting, as we do here in this country. I don't think that the answer is as simple as banning hunting. I don't think that we should, having said that, we ought to look into this situation. I think that the Zimbabwe authorities are there to make sure that the proper permits were there. It looks like it wasn't the case. So this case aside, the broader question is; How do we make sure that the Wildlife remains in Africa? I can tell you the bigger problem is not with the lions. The lions are not endangered. It's with elephants and Rhino and that is a huge problem. South Africa lost about 1200 Rhinos in Krueger park along. One park, 1200 last year. They lost more than 700 this year. You can't sustain that kind of rate of loss. The elephants we lost between 40 and 60% of the African elephants in the last couple of decades. We cannot sustain that either. So we have got to step up efforts to ensure that we dampen the demand, most of that is in Asia, for ivory and Rhino horn. Also, look at these trafficking networks as well. We can help and are helping in that regard.

TED SIMONS: What can the U.S. do to fight this ivory trafficking?

JEFF FLAKE: Well, we are working with those Governments to try to -- these are sophisticated international syndicates in many ways moving Rhino horn and ivory. And so we can clamp down there, stiffen penalties where that makes sense. Also, also help the countries, like Kenya and others, who have had this problem for a long time helping with the increased number of park Rangers and others to protect these herds. And so we're looking at a number of different options, all of which are going to have to be employed in other areas. And what works in one country may not in another, so we're working with them.

TED SIMONS: And you visited Africa with President Obama. Talk to us about that.

JEFF FLAKE: It was great. I chair the Africa subcommittee of the Senate foreign relations committee and spent three years of my life in southern Africa. So I have a great love for the continent, and so it was nice to go back with the President and go to Kenya. Quite emotional for him. The first American president to be there. Then on to Ethiopia, I had not traveled to Ethiopia before, but incredible, incredible country there as well. There we talked about a lot of development issues and security issues with Al Shabaab. Kenya the attacks that have gone on, we have important security relationships with these Governments. Also, anti-poaching efforts, as I mentioned before. And climate issues, many other things as well.

TED SIMONS: Real quickly, I know you've been looking at these commentaries on these paid military tributes at sporting events, which we think are one big grand gesture by these professional teams. Turns out, these are basically paid advertisements.

JEFF FLAKE: Some of them, in fact, a few of them. Gratefully the Arizona teams the D'Backs and others do it as you would expect. Out of the goodness of their hearts. My problems were found some contracts. Where some pro sports' teams, football teams were paying, or being paid to put, you know, members of the military up on the Jumbotron. You know, had it stipulated in the contracts how many seconds that they had to be up there and what they had to do. It cheapened the experience. It's a waste of tax payers dollars for that kind of thing because that would be done, I think, out of the goodness of their hearts, if we weren't paying for it. Like I said, it cheapens the experience.

TED SIMONS: Arizona Republic noted your request for information regarding his contracts was being slow footed and then some.

JEFF FLAKE: It is. It's not something that the Pentagon is particularly proud of now. But, we'll get to the bottom of it. They have already moved to cancel some of these contracts. It's -- the broader question is, what do we do to make sure that our services have the recruitment tools that they need? It was thought for a while, well, advertise at Nascar. There was a lot of money going into that venue, and somebody started to question, let's see some metrics as to what you are getting out of that. It was not too compelling. So, we're looking at this pretty closely.

TED SIMONS: Ok. I can't let you go without your thoughts on the Republican presidential race. The presidential race on the Republican side, I should say, and your thoughts on the man of the hour. He's not going away, this Donald Trump.

JEFF FLAKE: Well, it's nice to be one Senator who isn't running for President. It gives me a unique perspective perhaps. No I find it fun to watch. I think ultimately we'll have a candidate that we can support and be proud of. I have -- my feelings about Mr. Trump and his candidacy are, are probably well-known. I've not been a fan. I saw that he just introduced his immigration plan, such as it is. It's not a serious plan. I don't think that it's a very serious candidacy frankly.

TED SIMONS: And I was going to ask you that one question. Is he a serious candidate? Is he a serious person?

JEFF FLAKE: he may treat his candidacy as serious, but if he is in the long-term he's going to need some serious policy positions. He's not put those forward yet. And some of the rhetoric that he's used and the statements he's made, I think, make it very difficult for the Republican party to broaden its appeal and to be able to win national elections. So, that's my biggest problem with Mr. Trump.

TED SIMONS: Obviously as a strong Republican. I don't think anyone thinks you are drifting over to the Democrats any time soon. And yet he calls John McCain not his kind of hero. What do you think when you hear anyone, much less the front running Republican for President, say such a thing?

JEFF FLAKE: That's the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard. Anyone who challenged, challenges John McCain's war record or his heroism, if they do that, they don't know John McCain's history.

TED SIMONS: And the idea that illegals are bringing drugs, bringing crime, quote "they are rapists."

JEFF FLAKE: That was not a statement that one who wants to broaden appeal makes. It's just like the statement that I'm going to build a wall and force the Mexican Government to pay for it. It just -- the statements range from offensive to simply laughable.

TED SIMONS: So, with that in mind, what does his success. Keep it to Arizona, he's number one in Arizona right now. What does his success say about Republican voters in Arizona?

JEFF FLAKE: I think that it says more about the timing right now. The election isn't until next year. Now is the time where I think that people can express their displeasure at Washington, which they are doing. They are justified in doing so. And maybe expressing their displeasure with the status quo. But as we get into next year. We look seriously about someone who can lead this country. Lead the most powerful country in the world. I think that we tend to look a little more carefully, and that will come.

TED SIMONS: Okay last question then. With that in mind, you saw the debts, both of them. Any bells rung there? Any surprising disappointments?

JEFF FLAKE: No. I thought people who hadn't seen some of these candidates before, John Kasich, for example. -- I didn't serve at the same time he did in the house, but I followed after him. I Always admired his work on the budget committee. His Acumen on physical issues. I think, you know, a lot of Republicans were exposed to that for the first time. You know, and Carly Fiorina, as well. Her grasp of some foreign policy issues, I think, surprised some people. -- I think Governor Bush did a good job, as well. As did Marco Rubio and several others. But It's a long way to go.

TED SIMONS: All right. It's good to see you again. Thank you so much for joining us.

JEFF FLAKE: Great to be here.

TED SIMONS: And Tuesday on Arizona Horizon, we'll talk more about the big jump in Phoenix area home building permits. We'll hear about an effort to improve the State Bar at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next Arizona Horizon. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Jeff Flake : Arizona Republican Senator

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