Editor's note: Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake delivered a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday regarding the treatment of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Below are his remarks in full as prepared for delivery.
I rise today to say a few words about the two human beings who will be providing extraordinarily important testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow — Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who will testify in that order.
Two human beings. It feels a bit odd in this political setting to specify their humanity that way, doesn’t it? And I admit it feels strange to have to do that. But we in this political culture and in this city and in this building and even in this chamber — we seem to sometimes forget that before this woman and this man are anything else, they are human beings.
We sometimes seem intent on stripping people of their humanity so that we might more easily disregard or defame them and put them through the grinder that our politics requires. We seem, sometimes, to even enjoy that.
For the past two weeks we have certainly seen that happen to both of these human beings, for whatever reason — because we think we are right and they are wrong, because we think that our ideological struggle is more important than their humanity, because we are so practiced at dehumanizing people that we have also dehumanized ourselves.
Whatever else they are or have become to us, whatever grotesque caricature we have made of them or ourselves, before we are Democrats or Republicans, before we are even Americans, we are human beings. As President Kennedy said, “We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”
And so these witnesses who will testify in a very important hearing tomorrow, these unwitting combatants in an undeclared war — these people are not props for us to make our political points, nor are they to be “demolished like Anita Hill” as was said on conservative media the other night. Nor is one them a “proven sex criminal” as has been circulating on the left side of the internet. These are human beings, with families and children — people who love them and people whom they love and live for — and each is suffering through the very ugly process that we have created.
I will not review the unseemly process that brought us to this point, because that is for another time, and in any case didn’t start with this particular nomination. But here we are.
There was an earlier case, 27 years ago, from which you might have thought we would have learned something, but the past couple of weeks makes it clear that we really haven’t learned much at all. Consequently, there have been cries from both sides of these proceedings that each of these witnesses has fallen victim to character assassination. Both of those claims are absolutely correct. And so I will say to these witnesses — these human beings — we owe both of you a sincere apology.
An apology is inadequate, of course, but it’s a start. We can’t very well undo the damage that has been done, but we can govern our own behavior as we go through this painful hearing tomorrow, and the days afterward. We must do that, lest we do even more damage. Some of the public comments about both of these witnesses have been vile.
Not unrelated to those comments, each of these witnesses have reportedly been subject to death threats, and for that we should be ashamed. The toxic political culture that we have created has infected everything, and we have done little to stop it. In fact, we have only indulged it, and fanned the flames, taken partisan advantage at every turn, and deepened the ugly divisions that exist in our country.
These past two years, we have tested the limits of how low we can go. And my colleagues, I say to you that winning at all costs is too high a cost. If we cannot have a human — rather than a political — response to these witnesses, if we are heedless to the capacity that we have to do real and lasting damage, then maybe we shouldn’t be here.
When Dr. Ford came forward, I felt strongly that her voice needed to be heard, and that is why I informed Chairman Grassley that the Judiciary Committee could not and should not proceed to vote until she had the opportunity to make her voice heard, until such time that her claims were fully aired and carefully considered, her credibility gauged. This is a lifetime appointment. This is said to be a deliberative body. In the interest of due diligence and fairness, it seemed to me to be the only thing to do.
Not everybody felt that way. One man, somewhere in the country, called my office in Arizona and left a message saying that he was tired of me “interrupting our president” and that for the offense of allowing Dr. Ford to be heard, for this offense, me and my family would be “taken out.”
I mention this with reluctance, but only to say that we have lit a match, my colleagues. The question is, do we appreciate how close the powder keg is?
Tomorrow, we have a hearing. Many members of this body, from both parties, have already made up their minds, on the record, in advance of this hearing. They will presumably hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. One is tempted to ask, why even bother to have a hearing?
I do not know how I will assess the credibility of these witnesses — these human beings — on the grave matters that will be testified to, because I have not yet heard a word of their testimony, and because I am not psychic. I am not gifted with clairvoyance. Given these limitations, I will have to listen to the testimony before I make up my mind about the testimony.
What I do know is that I don’t believe that Dr. Ford is part of some kind of vast conspiracy from start to finish to smear Judge Kavanaugh, as has been alleged by some on the right.
And what I do know is that I don’t believe that Judge Kavanaugh is some kind of serial sexual predator, as has been alleged by some on the left.
I must also say that separate and apart from this nomination and the facts that pertain to it, I do not believe that a claim of sexual assault is invalid because a 15-year-old girl didn’t promptly report the assault to the authorities, as the President of the United States said just two days ago. How uninformed and uncaring do you have to be to say things like that, much less believe them? Do we have any idea what kind of message that sends, especially to young women? How many times do we have to marginalize and ignore women before we learn that important lesson?
And now, if I might say a word or two about the human beings first, on the Judiciary Committee and then in the full senate who will have to weigh the testimony we will hear tomorrow, and come to a decision on this nomination.
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination on Friday. I hope that tomorrow’s hearing gives us some guidance on how we vote. But those of us on the Committee have to be prepared for the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that there will be no definitive answers to the very large questions before us. In legal terms, the outcome might not be dispositive.
While we can only vote yes or no, I hope that we in this body will acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. We are imperfect, and we make imperfect decisions. This monumental decision will no doubt fit that description. Up or down, yes or no, however this vote goes, I am confident in saying that it will forever be steeped in doubt. This doubt is the only thing of which I am confident in this process.
I say to all of my colleagues: For this process to be a process, we must have open minds. We must listen. We must do our best, seek the truth, in good faith. That is our only duty.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.