- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

President Trump visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday trying to mend fences with Senate Republicans. Instead, he ended up chasing another one out the door.

Less than an hour after Mr. Trump huddled with Republicans at the senators’ weekly lunch, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona announced he wouldn’t run for re-election next year. He blamed the president for defiling politics and posing a threat to democracy.

In a stunning speech from the Senate floor, Mr. Flake bemoaned “personal attacks,” “flagrant disregard for truth and decency” and other evils he said have emanated from the White House. He said the political culture has made Republicans like him unable to get elected anymore.

“Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘Tell it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified,” the senator said.

Mr. Flake becomes the second Republican senator to announce retirement amid feuds with Mr. Trump after Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, with whom Mr. Trump traded jabs over Twitter Tuesday morning.

The White House bade good riddance to both senators.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders portrayed Mr. Flake and Mr. Corker as lawmakers who did not fully support the president’s agenda and bowed out rather than suffer the wrath of Trump supporters at the polls next year.

“I think we support the American people on this one,” Mrs. Sanders said. “The voters of these individual senators’ states are speaking in pretty loud volumes. I think that they were not likely to be re-elected. And I think that shows that the support is more behind this president than it is those two individuals.”

Mr. Trump prefers Republican senators who “are committed to actually moving the ball down the field, and I don’t think these two people necessarily have been as focused on that.”

Analysts said the two senators signal a deepening rift within the Republican Party and wondered whether others would heed Mr. Flake’s call to mount resistance to Mr. Trump.

Many Senate Republicans emerged from the lunch with Mr. Trump to say all was well. Several said the harsh words for the president don’t mean that Mr. Flake or Mr. Corker will oppose tax reform or other top presidential priorities.

“I would think their philosophy of conservatism and letting people keep more of their tax money and creating a dynamic economy would override any personal things,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican.

The exchange of tweets between Mr. Trump and Mr. Corker followed by Mr. Flake’s announcement gave Washington a jolt but was far from a stampede.

Still, there has been an uptick in retirements among moderate House Republicans. Rep. Charles W. Dent of Pennsylvania announced last month that he wasn’t running for re-election, following the same move by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and David G. Reichert of Washington.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Corker have been engaged in a vicious back-and-forth for days. The senator has accused the president of being untruthful and debasing the nation.

To nobody’s surprise, Mr. Trump fought back fast and hard, calling Mr. Corker a “lightweight” who is waging a personal vendetta against his tax cut plan.

Sen. Corker is the incompetent head of the Foreign Relations Committee, & look how poorly the U.S. has done,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “He doesn’t have a clue as the entire World WAS laughing and taking advantage of us. People like ‘liddle’ Bob Corker have set the U.S. way back. Now we move forward!”

Mr. Flake has also clashed repeatedly with Mr. Trump and came out with a book this year detailing his opposition to Trumpism.

He appeared to time the detonation of his political career to sabotage Mr. Trump’s attempt to build party unity.

The president was at the lunch to rally Senate Republicans behind the tax reform plan and corral support for the rest of his stalled legislative agenda, including the repeal of Obamacare.

Senators who were at the lunch said Mr. Flake gave no indication that he was about to call it quits.

Mr. Flake acknowledged that his decision was a reflection of his rough re-election path. He was facing a stiff challenge for the Republican nomination, and Democrats were preparing a tough general election fight as well.

Before he was elected to the Senate in 2012, Mr. Flake served six terms in the House, breaking a three-term pledge after he concluded he needed to keep fighting to trim the federal deficit and pass broad legalization for illegal immigrants.

He clashed with President George W. Bush, also a Republican, over spending and deficits, but their relations never deteriorated to the point they have with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Flake said Mr. Trump has poisoned politics and that it was time for fellow Republicans to speak out.

“Politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity,” Mr. Flake said. “I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be silent.”

Like Mr. Corker, he said he intends to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2019.

Kelli Ward, a Republican who was challenging Mr. Flake in the Republican primary in Arizona and had just earned the backing of former Trump political strategist Steve Bannon, said ousting Mr. Flake was a victory.

“Arizona voters are the big winner in @JeffFlake’s decision to not seek re-election,” she said on Twitter. “They deserve a strong conservative in the Senate.”

Ms. Ward lost no time in using the Flake retirement for fundraising purposes, sending a message Tuesday night to warn her supporters of a smear campaign against them.

“Sanctuary Senator Flake is out of alignment with the people as he refuses to support the president and his bold ‘America First’ agenda,” Ms. Ward said in the email. “The writing is on the wall: the Establishment’s days are numbered.”

She needs donations because, she said, “the Establishment will do anything it can to smear and sabotage our America First campaign, and I can only imagine what they have up their sleeve.”

Mr. Flake’s decision energized Trump Republicans and gave Democrats an inkling of hope that they could take the seat in the reliably red state.

“He has finally gotten the message: The people of Arizona have had enough of his slavish loyalty to the D.C. establishment ‘swamp’ at the expense of their real concerns,” said Ed Rollins, chairman of Mr. Bannon’s Great America Political Action Committee.

He said Mr. Flake’s “open hostility to President Trump and the bold agenda to make America great again” was out of step with Arizona voters and the senator knew it.

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