Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake recently has been masquerading as a Republican with a heart, someone willing to stand up to Donald Trump and others in the GOP whose lack of principles is tearing the country apart.
Flake recently wrote a check for a whopping $100 to support Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones in Alabama. He claims to have secured political promises from the Trump administration over DACA, which protects immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. (The White House denies there are any deals.)
But none of this moralistic posturing matters, because Flake, who is retiring from the Senate in 2018, was one of the deciding votes in favor of the Republican tax overhaul in the Senate, a staggering giveaway to the extremely wealthy and a threat to both middle-class taxpayers and the country’s healthcare safety net.
During a Thursday night flight from AZ to CA, Flake got a dose of reality from a terminally ill patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurological disease that has no cure.
Ady Barkan, the founding director of the Fed Up campaign, grilled Flake at length about his vote on the GOP tax plan and urged the senator to follow his conscience and define his legacy by doing the right thing on the tax plan, DACA, and other issues.
“Why not take your stand now?” Barkan asked, in a moving conversation that has gone viral on Twitter. “You can be an American hero.”
Here is the first of eight video clips shared on Twitter:
“I was healthy a year ago. I was running on the beach. I’m 33. I have an 18–month–old son. And out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with ALS, which you know has a life expectancy of three to four years, no treatment, no cure. I probably will need to go on a ventilator to live,” Barkan said.
He then referred to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who “thinks people on disability are just slackers. So what should I tell my son? Or what should you tell my son if you pass this bill and he cuts funding for disabilities and I can’t get my ventilator?”
Flake tries to reassure Barkan, but the young father, lawyer, and progressive activist doesn’t take the bait and presses on.
“The leadership in Congress is saying one thing and oftentimes doing something else. They said taxes wouldn’t go up to the middle class. It’s like 80 million families are gonna see tax hikes. They said it would be deficit–neutral. It’s $1 trillion dynamically scored. Are you supposed to trust them? Is my wife supposed to trust them that they’re not going to implement PAYGO when it’s the law of the land?”
PAYGO is a budget rule requiring that new legislation affecting entitlement program spending does not increase budget deficits.
The debate then moved to economic growth and deficits, with the senator justifying his vote using economic arguments that don’t really reflect the reality of the GOP’s bill.
They also discussed DACA, for which Flake claimed his interest is in protecting “these kids.” But Barkan called him out on that, too.
“I totally agree with you. But that means that you have to actually withhold your vote if we don’t get DACA. These kids are gonna be sent back to their countries that they’ve never lived in and where they may be persecuted. This is your moment, you gave the speech, you’re leaving in 12 months. You could force them to get a clean DACA bill by Jan. 1st or March,” Barkan said.
He then grilled the senator about the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which provides health insurance for nearly 9 million kids and which GOP lawmakers don’t think is important enough to reauthorize.
“Why not use the tax bill, which clearly has health insurance stuff on there to reauthorize CHIP?” Barkan asked, to which Flake responded, “I don’t know the details of why CHIP can’t be part of the tax bill.”
The most compelling part the entire exchange happens at the end of the video thread, with Barkan issuing a challenge to the soon–to–be–retired senator:
So why not take your stand now? You can be an American hero. You really can. You’re halfway there if the votes match the speech. Think about the legacy that you will have from my son and your grandchildren if you take your principles and turn them into votes. You can change my life. Please. Please remember this conversation…
I need you to make your vote match your principles, senator. And for the rest of your life, you will be proud if you vote this bill down. You will be proud on your deathbed, I promise you. You will remember voting no. And if you vote yes, you won’t feel better about yourself, and your grandchildren won’t be proud. This is your moment to be an American hero.
The two later exchanged messages on Twitter: