Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. participates in an interview at the The Atlantic’s ‘The Constitution in Crisis’ forum in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. The forum is in partnership with National Constitution Center and Gallup. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Ever since he decided that his brand of Never Trumpism was probably not going to go down well in Arizona, Jeff Flake has basted himself in a fine sauce of virtue signaling. Flake, rather like McCain, sees himself as the conservator of all that is true and pure and anyone who opposes him as misguided or evil. It is a sad condition caused by unrequited love for one’s own press clippings and there is no known cure.

Early in the year, Jeff Flake decided that Robert Mueller’s investigation needed protecting. Never mind that Mueller is, for all intents and purposes, a temp who was hired for a specific job and who was never confirmed by the Senate and whose very existence is dependent upon Department of Justice internal regulations. He led a “bipartisan” effort to craft a bill that purports to limit the ability of the president or the attorney general or the deputy attorney general to fire Bob Mueller. The bill languished for several reasons. McConnell was opposed to it. A majority of the Senate GOP caucus was opposed to it. The House was opposed to it. And lastly, President Trump was opposed to it. Essentially, this was yet another exercise in virtue signaling created with the sole purpose of showing his colleagues just how much more high-minded he was and possibly improving Flake’s chances of landing an MSNBC or CNN gig after he left office.

Once Flake was on the way out, he decided to continue to try to make saving Bob Mueller a central issue.

But time was running out both on this Congress, and thus Flake’s pet project, and on Flake. To end run the system, Flake asked for unanimous consent to bring the bill to a vote. McConnell, himself, objected which meant that the bill would have to proceed onto the Senate calendar in accordance with regular procedures. This rebuff by McConnell emboldened Flake to engage in a bit of extortion.

Flake, by himself, has limited impact. There is no requirement that the Judiciary Committee not send nominees to the full senate who didn’t get a majority vote in committee. And even if Flake votes against the nominations, it isn’t a huge deal as it is unlikely there will only be a one vote margin over the next month…do you really think Heitkamp or McCaskill or Donnelly are going to make every vote? If it were a one vote margin, then Pence can break the tie. The real question is whether Flake is alone or if he is doing this because he knows that Murkowski and Collins will stand with him.

What happens next?

Does McConnell cave and allow a vote? Does McConnell find a way of inflicting enough pain on Flake that he relents? Will the Senate confirm another couple of dozen conservative jurists during the Lame Duck session or will McConnell accept defeat and start again in the next Congress.

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