Arizona Sen Jeff Flake will not seek re-election; blasts Trump for 'reckless, undignified behavior'

Key Points
  • Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is not seeking re-election next year.
  • In a speech announcing his decision, he offers a stinging rebuke to the path of the Republican Party under Trump and says he felt he no longer had a place in the party.
  • Flake's decision generates uncertainty about the future of his seat and the GOP's Senate majority.
Watch Senator Jeff Flake's full speech from the Senate floor

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., will not seek re-election next year, issuing a sharp rebuke to a Republican Party that he said has given into a "more viscerally satisfied anger and resentment" under President Donald Trump.

Flake, who drew Trump's ire when he published a book criticizing the GOP's current identity, considers himself a traditional fiscal conservative. He faced a brutal primary fight from the right from at least one candidate who alleged he did not do enough to support the president, while he had a general election challenge from the Democrats in a state that is far from a lock for Republicans.

His sudden decision, first reported by The Arizona Republic, generates uncertainty around both his Arizona seat and the GOP's 52-seat Senate majority.

In a stinging Senate floor speech announcing his decision, Flake eviscerated not only the "coarseness" of the national dialogue but also those in the Republican Party who insist on following Trump's lead. He contended that "reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior" coming from the executive branch has gotten "excused."

"And so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent," Flake said. "I decided that I would be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles."

"To that end, I am announcing today my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019," Flake continued. "It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party — the party that has so long defined itself by its belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment that we have given in or given up on the core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfied anger and resentment."

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks to reporters about President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, on Capitol Hill, Washington, May 10, 2017.
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Trump won the White House last year on a staunch anti-immigration, protectionist and nationalist platform. His often coarse, off-the-cuff speaking style endeared millions of voters but increasingly left some GOP lawmakers feeling he had abandoned the country's core principles.

Trump had personally targeted Flake when he bucked the president. In multiple tweets earlier this year, Trump called the senator "weak," "ineffective" and "toxic."

The president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was targeting the Arizona Republican and others in the party with primary challenges, seeking candidates more in Trump's mold.

Flake on Tuesday said he did not criticize the president because he relished it, but because he felt it was his duty.

Sen. John McCain, who also earned Trump's ire, particularly for voting against an Obamacare repeal plan, thanked Flake for his service in a tweet.

McCain: Thank you to my dear friend @JeffFlake for your honorable service to the state of #Arizona & the nation.

Flake joins a growing list of notable Republicans who have publicly and pointedly criticized the party's direction under Trump. Sen. Bob Corker, who also is not running for re-election next year, on Tuesday said Trump "debases our country" and will not "rise to the occasion as president."

Last week, McCain criticized what he called "half-baked, spurious nationalism," earning a rebuke from Trump.

Former President George W. Bush also assailed the country's current state without naming Trump, saying "bigotry seems emboldened."

In his remarks Tuesday, Flake said the behavior that comes from the top of the government is "dangerous to democracy."

"Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified," Flake said. "And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to democracy."

Speaking on MSNBC later Tuesday, Flake said he has "deep concerns" about Trump's fitness for office but ruled out seeking impeachment. Flake hopes Trump will shift his behavior but it likely will not happen at this point, the senator added.

In concluding his remarks on the Senate floor, the senator expressed optimism that Trump's influence on the party will pass.

Said Flake: "This spell will eventually break, that is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better."