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AXE FILES: Exclusive Interview with Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 3, 2018 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on THE AXE FILES: Republican Senator Jeff Flake on his decision to retire:

[19:00:00] SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I couldn't see agreeing with the President and condoning his behavior. If that was the price to win re-election, I simply wasn't willing to pay it.

ANNOUNCER: His take on the gun debate after personally coming under fire.

FLAKE: I still remember thinking of that time, why us? Why here. I've done this 18 years now. And it's time for a new chapter.

ANNOUNCER: And his next political move.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN HOST: You don't look to me like a guy ready to quit.

FLAKE: No, I'm not.

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the AXE FILES.

AXELROD: Senator Flake, great to see you. You know, I remember hearing about you when you came to the House. And people said, this guy is going places. This guy is the face of the new conservative movement. And now you are leaving.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: And not entirely voluntarily.

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: Do you wake up in the morning ever and say what happened.

FLAKE: Yes, I do.

AXELROD: You have this - you posted this video in 2016 of elephants charging your jeep. And it strikes me that's sort of a metaphor here. Like the Republican Party is not the Republican Party that you recognize.

FLAKE: No, it's not. I have a carved tyrannosaurus in my office. Republican in name only. I guess I just embraced it.

AXELROD: You wrote this book about that called conscientious of a conservative. I read somewhere that you didn't tell the staff you were working on it.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: But it's a blisters indictment of President Trump and Trumpism and the direction of the party.

FLAKE: Right. It's not just indictment of Trump and Trumpism but we were headed this direction, you know longing ago. We stopped being the party of limited government, economic freedom, individual responsibility, and it drifted off to fight the culture wars. That's when you always know you are in a bad place. When you stop talking as a Republican about limited government or, you know, limiting -- spending and you start talking about flag burning or other cultural issues, or immigration to try to make up for not being conservative fiscally, you have to emphasize other issues.

And you know when we started doing that, you know, 2006, you know, Terrie Schiavo issues and whatnot. I knew we were in trouble and lost the majority in the house and Senate at that time.

AXELROD: But, you know, you look at the tax cuts, very, very strong wave of deregulation.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: But you don't believe the President is a conservative.

FLAKE: Well, no, I don't. Being a conservative.

AXELROD: You voted with him - you are probably in the top five of people who voted with the President on policy.

FLAKE: Well in terms -- when you look on the policies -- most of what the Senate does in the first year of a President's time is vote on his nominees, filling out his cabinet and then court picks as well. I'm a conservative. And so I do vote to put the judiciary in a more conservative direction. Certainly deregulation. But being a conservative is not just being conservative on policy. It's being conservative in comportment and demeanor, and manners. And anything but that in the White House right now.

AXELROD: You know, and you wrote about this your book. I was in a focus group in Peoria the other day with a group of people who had voted for Trump. They don't like his tweeting.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: But basically they say he is fulfilling promising.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: And on this very issue that troubles you, his sort of lack of decor up. They say, you know what, he says the stuff other people won't say, you know. And sometimes it's a little rough.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: But, you know, at least he is authentic, you know. We know he says what he thinks. And it's really an indictment of politicians you know.

FLAKE: It is. But words matter. Words matter. When the President talks about the press as the enemy of the people, for example, and then talks about fake news, calling real news fake within, and fake news real, that has ramifications, particularly internationally. When authoritarians everywhere now borrow that language to justify cracking down on dissent and legitimate opposition as fake news.

When the President talks about Mexicans in a demeaning way or talks about Mexico paying for the wall, that has ramifications, long-term ramifications. And so that's why, you know, when people say the tweets or the language doesn't matter it's just Trump being Trump, it does matter.

I just returned from a trip overseas for a week in the Middle East talking to diplomats, talking to heads of state, and others. And these things matter. These things matter. And it's not the way a conservative should act.

[19:05:10] AXELROD: You know, you use the word authoritarians for regimes overseas. But you also use the authoritarianism as a concern about what's happening here. In fact, you gave a speech on this freedom of the press.

FLAKE: It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own President uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies.

AXELROD: You mention the phrase of the President calling the media the enemy of the people. And you note that it was a phrase that Stalin used.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: Do you think the President has authoritarian indistinct, authoritarian impulses?

FLAKE: Well, he certainly has a fondness for authoritarians around the world. But I just don't understand that. I think a lot of people have a hard time understanding it. It's not very healthy in terms of our position in the world.

I wasn't comparing President to Stalin. Nobody compares to Stalin.

AXELROD: Right.

FLAKE: But what I couldn't understand and still can't understand is why the President would borrow language so identified with Stalin. Calling the press the enemy of the people.

AXELROD: I think it's fair to say -- he should know better. He hadn't read the history.

FLAKE: Then his staff should tell him.

AXELROD: How does this White House compare to others White Houses since that you have worked with.

FLAKE: It's different. It really is, definitely. When you see the cabinet meetings. It's painful, frankly, to watch. And what's more painful is to hear some of my colleagues in the Congress use similar language. I mean, there is -- we ought to have some kind of institutional pride at least, and some kind of prerogative here. We are the article I branch. We shouldn't willingly give up the authority we give up on a number of issues. And that's particularly bothersome to me. It is one thing for the cabinet and others to, you know, to exhibit that behavior. It's all together another for the Congress to do so.

AXELROD: Yes. I wanted to ask you about that because I watched that speech that you gave. I didn't see a whole lot of people sitting around you as you were giving the speech. And I was wondering, because the speech was not just a chastisement or a condemnation of some of the things that the President has said and done but it was also an admonition to your colleagues to stand up to that.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: And I'm wondering, when you go back to the cloak room after that does anybody pull you aside and say, I'm glad you said that or why are you embarrassing us?

FLAKE: I think it -- I do get a lot of people saying I'm glad you say that and I agree with you. But I do have a few saying, we shouldn't poke the bear like this or this doesn't do any good. We have to work with the President. Certainly we do. The President signs or, you know, vetoes legislation. But -- but I had a big problem when our leadership a while ago was saying we can't an immigration bill to the floor unless the President agrees with it. Since when?

AXELROD: I agree with you that that's the role the Senate should play. But it strikes me that you may not be a great messenger for this because the fact is that you have spoken out on all of these things.

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: And then you made a judgment that you could not win your own parties primary in Arizona.

FLAKE: Right. Right. I certainly couldn't win as a Republican running the kind of campaign that I felt I needed to run. I couldn't -- I just couldn't see agreeing with some of the President's positions and condoning his behavior. If that was the price to win re-election, I simply wasn't willing to pay it. And so, I may not be the best messenger in terms of how to saddle that, you know, some of the issues. But man, it's painful to see the Congress defer so much to the President. AXELROD: You are someone who -- your reference for the institutions

of democracy are clear. I mean, I share those. And we have different views on many things.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: But the institutions are what makes our democracy great.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: What's your level of concern about their durability?

FLAKE: I am concerned. I'm really concerned. You know, what will happen with regard to, you know, this President, if Bob Mueller comes back with -- with you know something damning.

AXELROD: Would this Congress do anything about it?

FLAKE: That's a concern I have. I do think that -- that enough of our colleagues will stand up when they need to. But right now it's concerning to see so many simply say, you know, let's -- let's go shirts and skins on this.

[19:10:03] AXELROD: But there are two separate issues here. Because what seems to motivating people now is fear, fear of ending up in a tweet.

FLAKE: Sure.

AXELROD: Fear of becoming a target.

FLAKE: And a lot of that is new.

AXELROD: You had a confrontation with the President before he became President.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: Right before the convention last year. And you told him that he should tone down his rhetoric

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: And he told you you're going to lose your re-election.

FLAKE: Yes. At that time he had made statements when he launched his campaign on Mexican immigrants that was derogatory. Then he got after John McCain and said he couldn't be a war hero because he was captured. Then he made a statement about the Mexican judge saying that he couldn't judge fairly because of his heritage. The judge born in Indiana, I believe, calling him a Mexican. Just that's beyond the pale. And that - I mean, when you look at where our party needs to go in the future, if we want to be a governing majority, we just can't do these things. We shouldn't do these things.

AXELROD: You mentioned senator McCain. And I know that you are close. He is a senior senator from your state.

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: At CPAC last week the President went after him.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Remember, one person walked into a room when he was supposed to go this way. And he said he was going this which. And he walked in with, and he went this way. And everyone said, what happened? What was that all about? Boy, boy, who was that I don't know. I don't know. I don't want to be controversial so I won't use his name.

AXELROD: We know senator McCain is fighting a serious illness. What was your reaction to that?

FLAKE: Same reaction I had before. You know, you can have disagreements with people without going after them like that. I went to see John a couple weeks ago at his ranch in Arizona. He is working hard and recovering. I hope that we have him back. But he is a genuine hero in times of war and peace. And to go after him like the President has done on occasions is simply not fair.

AXELROD: But the President does move the base.

FLAKE: He does.

AXELROD: You know, I saw -- the other day I was looking at some polling. And positive ratings of Putin have doubled from 17 to 34. And the ratings of the FBI have dropped precipitously.

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: So, isn't this what your colleagues fear?

FLAKE: It is. And I have seen some polling recently where you test the issues that people are concerned with. But economy, immigration, jobs, education, those are the things that perennially are at or near the top.

But at the top right now with Republicans, the base, is where you are with Trump in terms of -- if you are an elected official looking to re-election or looking to gauge where the voters are. The most important issue for Republicans that vote regularly in primaries are, are you with the President? And that's something we haven't seen before to this degree certainly. And I don't think it's a very healthy position to be in, to be wedded to the President in his positions or his behavior. So I just think long-term for Republicans that's not a good place to be in.

AXELROD: When you were in the House --

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: Maybe your closest ally there was congressman from Indiana named Mike Pence.

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: You voted together. You worked closely together. You had come from similar backgrounds in terms of policy.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: Do you keep in touch with him now?

FLAKE: I do.

AXELROD: How do you -- how do you guys deal with each other? Because he seems to be as committed and as defending of this President as anyone on the planet.

FLAKE: Yes, Mike and I both ran think tanks, conservative think tanks in the 90s. We got elected the same time. We were good friends, still are. But for 12 years in the House, very, very close. Our families are close. And so it's been a little different to have him in the White House.

AXELROD: Has he called you after some of the speeches, the book and so on?

FLAKE: We talk. He comes to the Senate often. And I'm glad he does. I'm glad he is where he is. I am. And he is a good man.

AXELROD: Is he just trying to survive this?

FLAKE: I don't want to say. But I can say he is intensely loyal. He has never uttered one syllable that would lead anyone to believe that he wasn't be being loyal to this administration or this President.

AXELROD: Has he been loyal to you as a friend?

FLAKE: Sure.

AXELROD: Has he asked you to stop doing what you are doing?

FLAKE: I have no complaints. He is a good friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next on the AXE FILES.

AXELROD: We have seen this before after hand sandy hook but nothing happened.

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: Why should assault weapons be so readily available?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[19:19:11] AXELROD: You wrote in this book, this politics was a generation in the making and would force us to corners from which we would regard though believe differently from us not merely as our political opponents but as a sworn enemy.

FLAKE: That's really, really troubling. We have seen this drift where it's not just those across the aisle that I have a disagreement with. But it's the enemy. And I got a real taste of it when President Obama was elected not long thereafter he invited several of us to play basketball, you know, on the court of the south lawn.

AXELROD: Yes.

FLAKE: So CNN I think and other outlets were reporting who had been invited. I got to the White House. I was in the basement there putting on the basketball shoes. And I got a call that was patched through from the capitol switch board or someone, a woman who is just hysterical. And she had seen reports I was playing basketball with President Obama. And she was just crying saying don't play basketball with that man. And it was just this vitriol and perhaps when I felt it most was when Gabby Giffords was shot and a year later she came back to Capitol Hill to retire but at the state of the union. And saw I sat with her. She is still a good friend of mine. And she was unable given her condition still to stand up.

[19:20:36] AXELROD: You helped her.

FLAKE: So I would help her up which left me the lone Republican standing to the Democratic applause lines. It is when President Obama spoke. And I immediately got texts and emails, the rest of the night. Why are you standing?

AXELROD: For a simple act of decency.

FLAKE: This is out of control, it really is.

AXELROD: But you have experienced this in a much more visceral and frightening way. You were on the field last June when the Republicans were practicing for the annual Republican/Democrat baseball game. And you came under fire. And this was the shooting in which representative Scalise was shot.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: Tell me about that day.

FLAKE: Well, that's - I have been doing this baseball game. It is one of the best institutions in Congress. You play against each other in Republicans and Democrats. But it's very much a bipartisan affair. It's just wonderful.

But -- so I have been doing this, this is my 18th year this year. But we were out there. And all of a sudden, you know, a shot rang out. We were trying to figure out what it was. And immediately thereafter a volley of gunfire. I just remember of all the memories, whether it was you know going out to Steve Scalise after, having to plug up the wound in his hip.

AXELROD: Yes, what -- you ran over there and you were trying to tie off the bleeding until the --.

FLAKE: Yes, I got out there first and Brad Winsor (ph) came. He was a doctor, fortunately a medic who knew what he was doing. I didn't. But then calling Steve's wife afterwards to let her know her husband had been shot and wanted her to hear it from somebody else in the news.

AXELROD: When you saw him on the ground there did you--?

FLAKE: It was awful. We were in the dugout part of the time applying a tourniquet to another staffer who had been shot but not been able to get out to Steve because of the gunfire was still raging overhead.

But the most enduring memory I have of that is when the volley -- the first volley rang out, the one that got Steve. I turned to the dugout to the only place you could run to. And I could see bullets pitching on the gravel around or in front of where I had to run. But I just -- I still remember thinking at that time, why us? Why here? Really? I mean, can somebody look out at a field, with middle age men playing baseball and see the enemy? It just -- I just remember that thought lingered, you know, how, why? And you know, our politics has come to a bad place. It turned out the shooter had a list of Republicans that he didn't like or didn't like policies that the party had adopted. And it's -- it's just an awful place we're in right now.

AXELROD: This discussion of guns and --.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: And gun violence is very, very ripe now again, sadly.

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: Because of the events in Florida. That shooter used an AR- 15. The shooter who shot at you guys also used a semiautomatic -- it was an SKS.

FLAKE: Yes, SKS.

AXELROD: A Russian weapon. Why should assault weapons be so readily available?

FLAKE: Well, I don't think they should be. And one thing that myself and Diane Feinstein -- it's something to lift the prohibition to age 21. This shooter in Florida, 19 years old, was able to purchase an AR-15 when he couldn't purchase a handgun. I don't think you can explain why he should have such ready access to an assault type weapon.

AXELROD: Can it pass?

FLAKE: I'll also introduce with Susan Collins, the no fly, no buy, something that simply makes sense.

AXELROD: Explain that.

FLAKE: If you're on a no-fly list where you can't get on an airplane.

AXELROD: You're viewed as a security risk.

FLAKE: You have a security risk but there is no prohibition right now. That ought to keep you on a similar list not to be able to purchase a weapon. I would think but we haven't gotten that passed yet. I hope we are able to. I sense we may have crossed a some kind Rubicon on that.

AXELROD: Have the kids made an impact?

FLAKE: They have. They are articulate and committed. And they have access to social media that really is changing the game. And so I hope that they keep at it.

I talked to one of the victims' father's last night. And it is just devastating. But they are really trying to make something good out of this. And I commend them for it.

[19:25:26] AXELROD: You have a good rating with the NRA.

FLAKE: Yes. So I grew up in a ruler area. And I don't want to make criminals out of those who sell a .22 caliber rifle to a friend or something like that, I mean. But we can have restrictions. We do have age restrictions, age restrictions on handgun, for example. We have restrictions on automatic weaponry.

AXELROD: You know, you mention all of these things. They probably all poll astronomically well. And we have seen this before after Sandy Hook, another horror but nothing happened. What will be different now?

FLAKE: Yes, I -- having these high school kids who can speak and speak articulately, and can organize through social media. And their parents are organized as well. That seems to have been maybe the missing ingredient. And if it's sustained -- and it will need to be sustained -- then I think we can make common sense changes that we should make.

AXELROD: Can you do it without the President?

FLAKE: Yes, I think the President will come around. But I think we may have to move forward recognizing the President may not agree until it gets to his desk. And we have experienced this on immigration as well. That when talk about on Capitol Hill is that the Tuesday Trump or the Thursday Trump.

The Tuesday Trump mean very accommodating on DACA for example and the solution there. But then the Thursday Trump having listened to some of the base who say you can't do this, not being as accommodating. And so, we, you know, may see that play out with the gun issue as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming up next on the AXE FILES.

FLAKE: Ten brothers and sisters. Grew up on a cattle ranch, just lost the end of my one index finger so made out quite well actually.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[19:31:25] AXELROD: Tell me about snowflake, Arizona, the flake in snowflake is no coincidence. That's your flakes, your great, great grandfather and essentially settled that area.

FLAKE: He did.

AXELROD: Sent there by Brigham Young.

FLAKE: Yes. 1878 he was told to go colonize Arizona and southern Utah to northern Arizona. Legend has it he trumped around six months, went back and told Brigham Young there is nothing worth settling down there.

(CROSSTALK)

FLAKE: Yes. He said sell all you have and go and look a little harder. He did. He bought the valley where snow flake now is. And that a rest is snow, one of the apostles who is kind of over the colonization of Arizona came down to look at the settlement. And he asked if it had a name yet. My great, great grandfather said no. He said call it snowflake for the two of us. And so, that where I grew up. And it was really an idyllic way to grow up.

My 10 brothers and sisters, grew up on a cattle ranch. Just lost the end of my one index finger so I made out quite well, actually. My uncle Jake Flake from the Snowflake was the speaker in the House of Arizona. Long tradition of public service, but in such a good way. These were men and women who, you know, knew that you had to get things done. He grew up on a ranch.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: Half the found is exact and half is Republican by ordnance.

FLAKE: Yes. And in the late 1800s, the Mormon Church was concerned that you might have too many people in the church in one party or another. And when the administration change it might put the church in a bad way with the new administration. So they famously went to a lot of congregations in Utah and Arizona and said basically those sitting in the left pews today register Democrat those in the right or vice versa. But it didn't matter as much then. And certainly all I ever witnessed was Republicans and Democrats working together and getting things done. And that's been kind of the example I have had.

AXELROD: Let me ask you about that finger. My buddy Rahm Emmanuel who you served with, he was missing half of middle finger.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: And President Obama once said it rendered Rahm mute that he lost half his middle finger. But how did you lose your --?

FLAKE: I always say that I didn't lose at least. (INAUDIBLE). My dad was missing three and my brother this. But mine I was only five years old. And we were working on what's called wind drawer (ph), (INAUDIBLE) like a columbine that cuts alfalfa. They are removing the long blade and I put my finger where I shouldn't have age five and then snipped the end right off. I don't remember too much.

AXELROD: You became a rancher at that point.

FLAKE: Yes. My dad grabbed the finger. The end of the finger put it on the end of my finger and wrapped it with a hanky and put me in the truck and finished the job and then drove me to the doctor. He sewed it back on but it fell off later in the swimming pool, snowflakes' only swimming pool.

I just remember yelling to my mom who is on the side and ten siblings around. I said mom, mom, my finger fell off. My finger fell off. And she looks around. It's only the mother of 11 can do what she said, shh, don't tell anybody. But it was a wonderful way to grow up. And I learned a lot. And I learned how to work. And I learned how to get along certainly with ten siblings. You need to do that.

[19:35:07] AXELROD: Yes. You also worked with immigrants.

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: And you write in your book about that as well. And you in fact talked about being a decoy to try and keep the feds who are flying over from rounding up the immigrants who work on your ranch.

FLAKE: It was interesting at that time, I should point out. It wasn't illegal to hire them. It was illegal for them to be in Arizona but there was little deterrence at the border at all.

AXELROD: Did you get to know the folks?

FLAKE: I did. I wrote about one, Manuel in particular. He was a mechanic and worker on our farm for 24 years. And I talked about he had come illegally initially. He ended up marrying a citizen. And getting his green card. Still lives in Snowflake. I last saw him this past summer at my father's funeral. A good man raised six children of his own in Snowflake who have all participated in the American dream.

And I have always said if you worked with migrants, immigrants like Manuel, it's tough to look at people coming across illegal as a criminal class. They were just trying to make life better for themselves. And in turn they made life better for all of us. And sometimes -- I'm all for change on our immigration policy, making sure we have people who can come here to help with our economy. But there should always be room in America for people whose only credential is a strong back or a willingness to work, and so many of our own ancestors including mine came under that premise. And I think if I have a problem with where the party now is it's that. And I just think that we have lost something as a party becoming such a nativist group and demeaning immigrants and devaluing immigration.

AXELROD: You are in the middle of this fight right now about DACA.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: You voted for the President's tax bill. And at that time you said you had an understanding with the White House.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: That they would work this through with you. Where are we now?

FLAKE: This needs to be fixed. It needs to be fixed on a permanent basis. These kids should be put on a path to citizenship. That's the ultimate solution. But I have come to conclude after the last debate that the best we can do right now is to offer them at least some assurance. I'm introducing along with Heidi Heitkamp legislation that would extend DACA or codify DACA for three years and provide some border security funding, what the President has requested basically three years. So we are calling it the three for three bill. If we simply saying we are going to extend DACA without a path to citizenship for a three-year period then I think an equitable trade is to say we will give the President what he asked for a three-year period in terms of border security funding.

AXELROD: You also were strongly opposing of the so-called Muslim ban.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: I want to read this from the book. When we say no Muslims or no Mexicans we may as well say no Mormon because it's no different. That kind of talk is the dagger in heart of Mormons. It's a dagger in my heart.

FLAKE: Yes.

AXELROD: Explain that.

FLAKE: Well, when the President came out and some people have said, well, he didn't really say it but he did. He said we want a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the country, a Muslim ban.

TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

FLAKE: I thought that was awful. I don't know how anyone could stand up and say that that's where we as a country ought to go, or that that is consistent with our constitution and our values. And so I -- that week actually I went to a Moscow and gave a talk there, talking about similarities of Mormons and Muslims I guess if you will or the persecution that there's been in the past, and just expressing some solidarity with those who were under attack here.

And, one, I think it's -- it certainly doesn't comport with our values. But it doesn't comport with our security needs either. It's just not smart to have a ban like this.

AXELROD: Do you think it was still motivated by the same impulses?

FLAKE: Yes. It's hard to say. Hard to argue that it's not when you look at the countries it affected. But it fits some kind of narrative we are being tough on, you know, immigration or security issues when really in many ways we are simply punishing people we ought to help.

[19:40:05] AXELROD: I saw this morning a new study by the ADL saying that acts of anti-Semitism were up 57 percent in the country. Are we becoming less tolerant?

FLAKE: Yes, I do. I think - I mean, if the parties are fighting like this, if you refer to the political opponents as losers or clowns as we have seen, then it -- you know, this polarization spreads as well. You see it among ethnic groups and among people at large. And that's not a healthy situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ahead, on the AXE FILES.

FLAKE: I do think the President will have a challenge from the Republican Party. I think there should be. I also think that there will be an independent challenge.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[19:44:59] AXELROD: You know, I want to ask you about a fellow Mormon, Mitt Romney, who is running in Utah now. And very likely going to win.

[19:45:07] FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: What's striking about what's going on in Congress right now is there are people outspoken. You've been outspoken. Senator McCain has been outspoken. For a while senator Corker was outspoken and then kind of pulled back. What impact will Mitt Romney have in the Senate?

FLAKE: I think it will have a bill impact. I'm a big fan and good friend of Mitt Romney. And I certainly encourage him to run. I don't think he is going out of his way to criticize the President. But he will certainly not shy away from doing it. He will come to the Senate with immediate, you know, credentials and gravitas. He is going to a very effective and needed voice.

AXELROD: Looking back on your career, there's been an elevation in your career. And you were a very much considered an idea log when you came. There were many, many votes almost all of the months' spending but where Flake appeared almost alone in the roster of no votes.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: Do you look back at that with any nuanced analysis, would you say, gee, I wish I would have done something differently.

FLAKE: I'm still a lonely end of votes here. I mentioned one in the bock with regard to the bailout.

AXELROD: The tarp.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: To prop up Wall Street after the collapse of Lehman brothers in 2008.

FLAKE: Yes. But that was an example of me hoping yes and voting no.

AXELROD: Which I had the luxury of doing that.

FLAKE: A lot of people do that, you know.

AXELROD: Hoping yes but you want to do to pass. You just didn't want your name on it.

FLAKE: That's right. That's right. It seems the only thing we can do on a bipartisan basis now is to spend money we don't have. And if you spread enough around then you can get bipartisan support. And unfortunately, I think this will come back to bite us over time.

AXELROD: You know on the TARP vote I was familiar with it because I was working for senator Obama at the time and he running for President in the midst of running for President.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: He tried to help and brought Democrats along, which wasn't a popular.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: Thing to do.

FLAKE: I mention that in the book. Would that happen today? I have a hard time seeing that happening today, where -- where John McCain and Barack Obama suspended their political campaign - the presidential campaign to come out and actually round up votes on their side. And you know, that was one vote I regret, because I think I basically relied on my colleagues to do what I knew we had to do.

AXELROD: A few months later the mess was dropped in our laps and President Obama's lap.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: And I remember every day weigh up and going to meetings about how we were going to keep the economy from sliding into a second great depression.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: Senator McConnell spoke to it that we didn't want to give him any support because that would signify that he would figure it out that - he had helped overcome this gridlock in Washington. That would have been a political victory for him. And that was true throughout eight years of Obama presidency.

FLAKE: Yes. That's something that I think all of us certainly the -- in this environment with President Trump, people will say, well if you oppose the President, if you are opposed to his some of these policies, his behavior it should be your role to oppose him on everything. But I don't think that's the case. I think that, you know, people criticize Mitch McConnell for making that statement that our role is to make Barack Obama a one-term President and to just try to hobbled him in that regard. I will still vote with this President when I think he is right. And oppose him when I think he is wrong. And I think that's my responsibility in the Senate.

AXELROD: You mentioned in the book senator McConnell blockade essential on the nomination of replacement for Justice Scalia. He said the other day in an interview that it was justified because now there is a Republican nominated justice in that seat. What do you think about that? Did the ends justify the means? And -- aren't we setting a norm now that will become damaging to the institution?

FLAKE: Yes. I'm very worried about that. I'm very concerned about how polarized this has been. Republicans may say hey we pulled a fastest one here. We got a conservative on the court. I'm a fan of judge Gorsuch. I'm glad he is where he is. But, you know what goes around comes around. And if we have a situation where we -- you know, use this procedural measures to block we can expect Democrats to do it as well. And I don't think over time we are setting very good precedent.

AXELROD: Is there an answer to this sort of spiral that we are in?

FLAKE: I don't know. I don't know that we can change it with rules. It's just got to be behavioral. I do think that this fever will cool. That's my hope. Resentment and anger -- it's not a governing philosophy. And that's what we seem to have now. And at some point I hope the

[19:50:20] AXELROD: Do you see yourself as part of the solution? And could there be a third party or a third way or an independent movement? You don't look to me like a guy that's ready to quit?

FLAKE: No. I have not sworn off elected office in the future. I think the fever will have to cool. There is not much place for a Republican like me in a party like this right now. I know that.

AXELROD: What about as an independent?

FLAKE: And that's always been the old saw. That's the future and it will always be the future. But I think that future may be coming because when you look at this polarization we have seen on the right is also happening on the left and there has to be a huge swath of voters in the middle that are looking for something else.

AXELROD: As 2020 approaches, your name has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the President in some sort of third party or bipartisan fusion effort. Is that something that you would consider?

FLAKE: That's not something I'm planning, no.

AXELROD: That's not what I'm asking. I'm asking is it something that you would swear off.

FLAKE: No, no. I wouldn't swear it off. I think, you know, we will see where this goes. I do think the President will have a challenge from the Republican Party. I think there should be. I also think that there will be an independent challenge, particularly if the Democrats insist on putting somebody up from the far left of the party. So I have -- you know, two years is a long time in politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up next --

AXELROD: In a matter of months you will be packing up your stuff here and moving back to Arizona. What will your emotions be when you leave here?

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[19:56:38] AXELROD: So, senator, we are here in the office that you are going to vacate at the end of this year. You actually stay here, like so many members.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: But, you know, one of the things you hear is that in the old days.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: Senators would live here with their families. And that experience of living together in the community, going to little league games, going to church or synagogue that was a bonding experience that no longer exists.

FLAKE: That's true. There are certain Democrats and Republicans. I just have virtually no contact with outside of, you know, just greeting them on the floor or whatever else. And it's a real problem. I thought it was such a problem that I went with Martin Heinrich on an island in the middle of the pacific and (INAUDIBLE) ourselves for a week just to prove that Republicans and Democrats can get along, survive.

AXELROD: How did that work?

FLAKE: We survived. It was a good diet.

AXELROD: So I see a picture over here of my old boss, President Obama, and your family. What was your relationship?

FLAKE: We talk. He called me after the shooting to make sure I was all right. And after I gave my speech, he called and the nicest thing that he did, I think, is the last night he was in the White House, the day before inauguration, he called just to say that he had enjoyed working with me. And I certainly said the same. He didn't have to do that. It was very nice.

AXELROD: I was in Arizona in the last couple of days. And I ran into a Republican who you know and is an admirer of yours. And he said this. He said I really respect Jeff, but if he believes so deeply in these things, why doesn't he stay and fight? Why does he just fight out of it? If he loses, he loses, but take a stand.

FLAKE: You know, that's tempting, certainly. But when you run a campaign, it is not just you. You have got to get volunteers and staff and you have got to have donors. It is a whole effort. And to say to them, I'm not running to win. I'm just going to stand on principal, but I will surely lose, then, you know, that's not fair to them.

AXELROD: In a matter of months, you will be packing up your stuff here and moving back to Arizona.

FLAKE: Right.

AXELROD: When you walk out of this office, will you do it wistfully, with sadness? What will your emotions be when you leave here?

FLAKE: I'm sure a lot of emotion. One, I have done this 18 years now. And it is time for a new chapter. But having said that, I'm not leaving because I have ill feelings about the Senate or any of my colleagues here. I love this institution. It's a wonderful institution. There are good people here on both sides of the aisle. And that's why I get so offended when the President or others refers to people on the Democratic side as losers or clowns or that anybody uses that kind of vitriol that feeds the cynicism that is already out there. This is a good place and these institutions I think will endure.

AXELROD: Good to be with you, senator. Thank you so much.

FLAKE: Thank you.

AXELROD: For more of my conversation with senator Flake, visit iTunes.com/axefiles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)