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Vocal Trump critic Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake won’t seek re-election

Updated October 24, 2017 - 6:47 pm

WASHINGTON — A day to plot legislative strategy on Capitol Hill exploded with drama as Republican Sen. Jeff Flake announced Tuesday he would not seek re-election in a speech aimed at President Donald Trump’s demeanor — just hours after the president exchanged insults with another GOP senator on social media.

Flake, who along with Nevada Sen. Dean Heller are considered the most vulnerable GOP incumbents facing re-election, had tangled with Trump on numerous occasions and faced a primary opponent backed by the president.

Without mentioning Trump by name, Flake said an impulse in political discourse to “threaten and scapegoat” was undermining the nation’s values and turning the country into a “fearful, backward-looking people.”

“We must stop pretending that the degradation of politics in our executive branch are normal, they’re not normal,” said Flake, Arizona’s junior senator. “It’s reckless, outrageous, and undignified.”

The Great America Alliance, an issue advocacy group set up by former White House advisers, called Flake’s decision to bow out a “monumental win for the entire Trump movement and should serve as another warning shot to the failed Republican establishment.”

Flake delivered his speech on the Senate floor, just moments after Trump met with the Senate GOP caucus to discuss tax reform, judicial nominations and his upcoming rollout of measures to combat opioid abuse.

Trump received applause from the Republicans inside the room. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., described the meeting as “very upbeat.”

But just hours before the GOP luncheon, Trump and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., became involved in a verbal spat that played out on the social media platform Twitter.

Trump and Corker spar

Corker called Trump “utterly untruthful” and said he would never support the president in an election again.

Trump replied that Corker couldn’t get elected “dog catcher” in Tennessee.

Corker announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election to the Senate, and he has been an outspoken critic of the president, even insinuating that the president is mentally unstable.

At the White House, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Flake and Corker “petty,” and suggested Corker was out “to get a headline or two” before he leaves office.

At the Capitol, the developments were a distraction.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has also felt the sting of Trump’s insults, dismissed the swirling controversy between the president and Corker.

“The issue we are concentrating on is the agenda we have for the American people,” McConnell told reporters. “The president shares that agenda.

“If there is anything that unifies Republicans it’s tax reform,” McConnell said.

But the dust up involving the president brought a rebuke from Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who said the Senate had serious issues to deal with, instead of dealing with insults hurled daily by Trump against lawmakers.

“We need President Trump to roll up his sleeve and get to work,” Schumer said. “Stop tweeting and start leading.”

Tax bill up next

The House is expected to pass a budget this week, which would allow lawmakers to pass tax bills that could add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.

Trump is seeking a reform of the tax code, simplifying it by creating just three brackets instead of seven. He also wants to reduce the corporate tax rate and double the current standard deduction for individuals and couples.

The president and Republican leaders say tax cuts and reforms will provide a pay raise for the middle class and create jobs.

“Let’s get this done,” McConnell said.

Democrats, however, said the proposals put forth by the president would benefit the wealthiest Americans while doing little for middle-class workers.

“It’s one untruth after untruth after untruth, as Sen. Corker put it,” Schumer said.

Specifics are expected next week when Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is to unveil the tax reform plan Republicans want to push through the lower chamber.

Senate lawmakers are also working on a proposal.

Under budget reconciliation rules, the Senate can pass a tax bill with a simple majority — something it could not muster on health care repeal and replacement plans.

Despite Republican control of the House, Senate and White House, the GOP has yet to chalk a major legislative victory for the president — who has chided House and Senate leaders for failing to repeal Obamacare.

“His presidency thus far has been a total flop,” Schumer said.

Trump has not shied away from hardball tactics against lawmakers in his own party. He backed Flake’s tea party challenger, Kelli Ward, for example.

Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon, has pledged to use the Great America PAC to fund challengers against Republican incumbents.

The Great America Alliance, the issue advocacy organization, has endorsed Las Vegas lawyer Danny Tarkanian in the GOP primary against Heller in Nevada.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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