Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' Grant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Will Trump choose megalomania over country? MORE (R-Ariz.) praised Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donating unused campaign funds to Arizona nonprofit focused on elections: report Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report MORE (R-Ariz.) on the floor of the Senate Tuesday after Flake announced in a blistering speech that he would not seek reelection because of his frustration and alarm over President Trump's behavior.
“On behalf of myself and I think many of my colleagues, we've just witnessed a speech from a very fine man, a man who clearly brings high principles to the office every day and does what he believes is in the interest of Arizona and the country,” McConnell said.
The majority leader said he was grateful Flake would be around through 2018 because Republicans in the Senate “have big things to try to accomplish.”
Flake’s stunning speech on the Senate floor came just moments after the Senate Republican Conference left a luncheon on Capitol Hill that Trump attended as part of an effort to get everyone on the same page about tax reform.
It could be the last chance Republicans have to pass major legislation during Trump’s first year in office, but instead Washington's focus Tuesday was on the fiery feuds emerging among GOP lawmakers.
It began when Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) renewed his fight with Trump, taking to the airwaves ahead of the meeting on Capitol Hill to accuse the president of being a liar and of “debasing” the nation.
Flake followed with his surprise announcement that he would retire at the end of this Congress. In his subsequent Senate floor speech, Flake said he could no longer “condone” the president’s behavior.
"We must never adjust to the coarseness of our dialogue with the tone set up at the top,” Flake said. “We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country, the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations — most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing to whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve."
Flake faced a tough primary challenge in 2018 from a pro-Trump candidate Kelli Ward, who is backed by a group with close ties to former White House strategist Stephen Bannon. Polls showed he faced an uphill climb to reelection.
McCain followed McConnell on the Senate floor to praise his home-state colleague, a first-term senator.
“I have seen Jeff Flake stand up for what he believes in knowing full well that there would be a political price to pay,” McCain said. “I have seen him stand up for his family. I've seen him stand up for his forbearers.”
“We look all of us at some point in our time that we have spent here, whether it be short or whether it be long, we look back and we think about what we could have done, what we should have done, what we might have done and the mistakes we made and the things we're proud of,” McCain continued. “Well, when the Flake service to this country is reviewed, it will be one of honor, of brilliance and patriotism and love of country, and I thank you, and God bless you and your family.”