Jeff Flake

Lawrence O'Donnell Slams Jeff Flake for Not Criticizing Birtherism Earlier, Even Though Flake Criticized Birtherism 8 Years Ago on MSNBC

Embattled Arizona senator getting dinged unfairly from the left for criticizing conservatives too late


Lawrence O'Donnell shreds Jeff Flake. ||| MSNBC

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has been all over the airwaves this month promoting his new book, Conscience of a Conservative, in which he laments that "Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign." In the process Flake has predictably drawn heavy fire from Trumpworld, and perhaps less intuitively from certain quarters on the left.

For instance on Monday, in a segment shared with the inevitable social-media headline "Lawrence O'Donnell Shreds Jeff Flake for Being Six Years Late on Trump, GOP Criticisms," the MSNBC host played a clip of this recent exchange between the senator and Chuck Todd:

Flake: I wish that we as a party would have stood up, for example, when the birtherism thing was going on. A lot of people did stand up, but not enough.

Todd: Did you do enough? […]

Flake: On that? I think I did.

To which O'Donnell retorted, "Oh, no, no, no, no, you did not. You definitely did not do enough."

What was the evidence for O'Donnell's confidently dismissive assertion? This: "The first time we can find Jeff Flake saying something negative about Donald Trump's lies about Barack Obama's birth was in June of last year after Donald Trump had already locked up the Republican Presidential nomination."

But there's a problem with that particular search string. Birtherism—the subject of Chuck Todd's query—long predates Donald Trump's involvement in it. And Jeff Flake was out there condemning the conspiracy theory over Barack Obama's alleged lack of U.S. citizenship as far back as 2009, both legislatively and in the media. Including on MSNBC.

On July 27, 2009, the House of Representatives, of which Flake was then a member, voted 378-0 on a resolution "Recognizing and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the entry of Hawaii into the Union as the 50th State." Conspicuously, for the politics of the time, the bill's third "whereas" in the preamble was: "Whereas the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961." As NBC News concluded back then, "It appears Congress has moved on and has accepted Obama's island birthplace." Or as a more gleeful Daily Kos headline put it, "It's Unanimous: Obama Born in Hawaii [and Freeper Meltdown]."

The resolution had nine Republican co-sponsors. One of them was Jeff Flake.

Chris Matthews brought Flake on MSNBC's Hardball the next night, touting him as a "leading co-sponsor" of the bill, and setting up their conversation with the question, "So what happened to the members of Congress who had been fanning the flames to delegitimize the president? Will they put to rest this insanity?" Here's are some selections from their exchange; bolding will be mine:

Matthews: The other [House Republicans] are [still] pushing this. They want to put a birth certificate out there. How do they reconcile that with voting to say that this president clearly is one of us?

Flake: I don't know. I suppose that other effort will go away pretty quietly now. I hope it does. I hope that this lays to rest any controversy that's out there. This shouldn't have been a controversy at all.

Matthews: What's in the water out there?

Flake: Well, I don't know. I think you saw some on the left, after the Bush-Gore race back in 2000, some who called Bush the illegitimate president for quite a while after that. And then you're seeing it here, not exclusively, but mostly on the right. It's unfortunate. It just kind of cheapens the debate.

At which point leading Democratic co-sponsor Rob Andrews, who was also on the program, cut in to call the Bush-Gore example "a ridiculous comparison":

Andrews: There is absolutely no doubt about Barack Obama's birth certificate. There's no dispute about this, which is why all you guys voted for it last night.

Flake: No, I completely agree with that….Some of us never questioned it.

Later, Andrews says "I mean, these guys ought to knock this off. Let's talk about jobs and health care and things that really matter to the people of the country."

Flake: Well, I agree, it's time to lay it to rest and go on. Some of us, like I said, never had that question at all. It's unfortunate that some did. But now I think it is laid to rest and we can address health care and the other issues. So I'm glad that we passed this resolution. I hope we can go ahead.

So Flake co-sponsored a resolution affirming President Obama's citizenship, with the specific intention of laying "to rest" a "controversy" that he said was "unfortunate" and "cheapens the debate." In 2009.

O'Donnell did not give any nods toward that history on Monday, instead slamming Flake for not issuing a condemnation on April 7, 2011, when Trump showily announced that he was sending investigators to Hawaii to search for Obama's birth certificate. "I said Donald Trump was lying about that that day, six years ago. Jeff Flake said nothing. But yesterday Jeff Flake said he thought he did enough in taking a stance against that lie. The first time Donald Trump opened his mouth about President Obama's birth, I said he was lying. Jeff Flake said nothing." (Trump had already been talking about the issue for a couple of weeks by then, for what it's worth.)

Jeff Flake declaiming birtherism on CNN in 2012. ||| YouTube

Missing from O'Donnell's self-aggrandizing criticism is that seven weeks prior to Trump's press conference, Flake had made scores of headlines—headlines like "Jeff Flake to birthers: Get real"—by stating point blank on CNN that, "The reality is that, yes, he was born in the United States. And so I hope that's not an issue going forward," and then, when asked the question, "Why do you think or do you think there's not enough, I guess pushback, from elected members and from our politicians to say that this simply isn't true? Do you think that for some people fanning the flames of this is actually politically helpful?" replying like this:

It's not. If you want pushback, I'll give it right now. Barack Obama is a citizen of the country. We ought to get off this kick. And there are plenty of differences we have with the president between Republicans and Democrats than to spend time on something like this.

One year later, running for Senate for the first time against a primary opponent who had expressed doubt about Obama's citizenship, Flake was asked at a Tea Party Forum his opinion on the matter. "I think he is our president," he responded. "I think he is duly elected and I believe he is a citizen. And I do believe it is a distraction. And my job is to make sure we beat him in November."

So widely known was Flake's aversion to the birth certificate business that the Washington Post could casually toss off sentences in mid-2013 such as "Conservative leaders like Sarah Palin, Karl Rove and Jeff Flake have long encouraged Republicans to move past the birther issue." Yet someone without that knowledge watching MSNBC Monday would have been left with the distinct impression that the first time Flake dared peep up was June 2016. (And not only was he speaking out then, he was openly lobbying his fellow Republican officeholders to withhold endorsement of their party's presumptive presidential nominee, on grounds that "some of the things he's done I think are beyond the pale.")

Having skipped over all of these examples, O'Donnell was better able to sell as cowardly opportunism Flake's willingness to condemn birtherism now, as opposed to September 26, 2016, when the subject came up in the first general-election presidential debate. "It would have been much more important for Jeff Flake to say something that night, on debate night, than it was yesterday now that Donald Trump is the most unpopular first-year president in the history of polling," he said. "It takes far less political courage to say that now." (Three weeks prior to that debate, Flake had said, "I think Republicans do need to distance themselves from Donald Trump," after which Trump tweeted, "The Republican Party needs strong and committed leaders, not weak people such as @JeffFlake, if it is going to stop illegal immigration.") O'Donnell's conclusion? "We are never going to count Jeff Flake as part of America's early warning system that will try to save us from the worst poisons in our political system."

I think O'Donnell's overall characterization of Flake's position and comportment is unfair. It is also not unusual. The New Republic's Brian Beutler scoffed in a headline at Flake's "Ridiculous, Fake Anti-Trump Rebellion" (among Beutler's bill of particulars: The senator failed to object to the Republican National Committee hiring Kayleigh McEnany as a spokesperson). "Evidence of Sen. Jeff Flake's newfound conscience continues to be hard to come by," snarked a diarist at Daily Kos. Syndicated Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts summarized the sentiment:

This courage would be more impressive had it shown itself sooner. The GOP, after all, didn't lose its mind when Trump came to town….

[This is] about the GOP's en masse retreat from reason, responsibility, statesmanship and simple decency.

This retreat has been objectively obvious for years, but the list of Republicans willing to stand up and concede the objectively obvious has been pathetically small.

Now Flake adds his name, making it…slightly less small.

I don't expect Leonard Pitts or Lawrence O'Donnell (or anyone, for that matter) to share my unusual policy preferences, but I do hope they read this January 2016 Reason interview with Flake, in which he slams his own party's ascendant trends on immigration, trade, and fiscal stewardship, and also this 2006 exchange, in which he gave a classic answer to what a GOP-led Congress might do to appeal to libertarians: "At this late date? Adjournment."

NEXT: Lawsuit Says Seattle's Income Tax Illegal, Unconstitutional

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  1. Flake strikes me as someone who will stand up for himself.

  2. Damn, who knew Mika’s pussy had the power to render O’Donnell incompetent at using an internet search engine?

    1. Mika’s banging O’Donnell? Why isn’t that the story?

  3. Matt, I’m sorry the state of the world is such that you felt you had to write a piece like this.

    1. What else is there to do in Germany?

      1. Learn how to give himself a Stranger?

      2. I cordially invite H&R’s Swiss Servitor to answer MJGreen’s question.

      3. You know who else’s idle hands got him into trouble in Germany?

  4. Every time a Birther opens his mouth, God registers another kitten as a Democrat…

    1. And then I use that kitten as a masturbation aid.

  5. Yet someone without that knowledge watching MSNBC Monday

    dude that’s like maybe seven people.

  6. Why is Jeff Flake such a lightning rod now? That book didn’t seem that meaningful or important.

    1. He’s not sticking to his assigned reservation, thus both the Republicans and Democrats hate him. He needs to stick to his assigned talking points and stop thinking for himself.

    2. He’s the rare Republican who doesn’t let Trump grab his pussy?

  7. The O’Donnells of the world care more about perpetually feeling (undeservedly) morally and intellectually superior to everyone than anything else. It’s a wonder many on the left are shocked there aren’t more Republicans speaking out against Trump when this is the reception they get from those same people for it. Never good enough. Never mind that a sitting Senator or Representative even just refusing to endorse the party’s nominee was, aside from Ron Paul, pretty much unheard of before 2016.

    1. He’s a clown.


  8. “In the process Flake has predictably drawn heavy fire from Trumpworld, and perhaps less intuitively from certain quarters on the left.”

    It’s only less intuitive if you’ve just arrived on this planet and have never encountered anyone on the left before.

  9. Apparently Flake doesn’t know the POTUS has to be a NATURAL born Citizen. Obama was ineligible not because of where he was born but because of to whom he was born. His father was a foreigner. That means Obama was a NATURALIZED citizen under the 14th amendment. Cruz, Rubio and Jindal are also naturalized citizens.

      1. And so is he but not a natural born one. That is someone born in a country to citizen parents. One of his was not a citizen.

        1. Both parents have to be citizens since when?

          1. The ratification of the Constitution.

              1. I said after your first reply the phrase is undefined. Do you actually read the comments? I readily concede anything anyone says about it is merely opinion.

              2. “Natural born citizen” means born an American without dual loyalties to other countries.

                You also have to be a citizen as of the ratification of the Constitution and a resident of the USA for 14 years.
                Article II, section 1.

                Even some of the Founders were not Natural born citizens but citizens and were therefore unqualified to be president.

                1. They were grandfathered in. Reread Article 2.

                  1. Natural born means born without anesthesia.

        2. You haven’t offered a single bit of proof to support your assertion. Several other presidents before Obama had at least one immigrant parent, there was actually a birther conspiracy against Chester Arthur alleging that he was born in Ireland (where his father was from).

          Also, most people pushing the birther conspiracy were outright alleging that he was born in Kenya. Some did argue that it didn’t matter like you are now, but the vast majority were disputing his place of birth.

          1. The comment right above yours says it is all opinion.
            Obama’s father was a foreigner not an immigrant. Besides as long as the immigrant becomes a citizen before the childs birth the child is natural born. Arthur’s father was not a citizen and Arthur should not have been eligible either.
            I know people were talking about location and this ehole thread is about how they were focused on the wrong thing.

            1. If it’s just your opinion then who cares? It seems that you’ve long been in the minority and that “a natural born citizen is someone who is a citizen at birth” has been the prevailing view forever. I find this entire line of discussion beside the point considering your position (Obama was born in Hawaii, but isn’t eligible anyways) was a minority viewpoint within the birther movement.

              1. Who cares? Anyone who thinks we are a nation of laws. Again the point is that the prevailing view has no basis in law. That it is possible that Obama was not eligible and that anyone else in a similar situation, Rubio and Cruz, are not eligible either.

                1. I’ll add that other than Chester A Arthur amd Obama all other Presidents were born in the country to citizen parents or grandfathered in.

                2. The prevailing view is the law. That you think that view is wrong or inconsistent does not mean it is not the law.

                  1. Opinion is not law.

                    1. 86% of Americans believe cannabis should be legal. Is itm

                    2. Is the prevailing view that it is legal?

                      (and what matters is the view among judges, bureaucrats, legislators, etc., not necessarily Americans at large)

                    3. There is no law or federal court decision that defines the phrase.

                    4. Common law might be opinion that is custom and therefore accepted as law.

                      Although the issue has not been decided by the SCOTUS, the founders clearly wanted people born in US territory without dual loyalty and residents of the USA for 14 years.

                    5. No federal court has addressed the issue.

                3. Your opinion has less basis in law than the opposite. The Constitution does not explicitly define “natural born citizen.” The view that this means someone who is citizen by birth is as supported or more than the notion that it only counts if both parents are citizens. And it has been the actual practice of the country dating back to the 19th century.

                  1. So if Congress passed a law granting everyone born in Mexico after Jan. 1st US citizenship at birth they could become the President? Do you really think that was the Framers intent although the qualification was to prevent foreign control of the office?

    1. His mother was a US Citizen. It takes two to have a baby. I mean, duh.

      1. And that makes him a naturalized citizen. Was my first post not clear?

        1. I’m fairly certain your first post is just wrong.

          1. Prove it. Cite any federal court decision or law that specifically defines the phrase “natural born Citizen” and it’s not Wong Kim Ark, Minor or Elk.

            1. That actually goes for you as well. If you’re arguing the legal consequence of a term you yourself say has no legal meaning then it’s as meaningless for your point as mine.

              1. Exactly! It IS all opinion. My point is to make those who think they know the answer that there is no answer. No one knows what it means! Even after the Cruz and Rubio questions we STILL don’t know.

    2. Well shit. And we let him be president for two full terms?

      1. That’s right because the courts would not grant anyone standing to sue over it. In fact as it now stands the phrase “natural born Citizen” has no legal definition. There is no specific court decision or law that defines it. If you know of one please post it.

        1. Correct, but also who gives a fuck? I guarantee goddamn tee you that if the man had white skin none of you weirdos would have even thought of this.

          Also, really? Do you dispute that his mother was American?

          1. Actually many people questioned McCain’s status. The Senate even passed a resolution saying he was a natural born Citizen. So you’re wrong about that.

            Yes she was and because of that he would have been born a naturalized citizen no matter the location.

            1. Wait a minute wait a minute. He was born on US soil, so the argument is moot. Right?

              1. Like I said he is a naturalized citizen by the 14th amendment.

                1. The language of the 14th amendment doesn’t seem to support your assertion. It says anyone “born or naturalized” in the United States is a citizen. That would seem to suggest that people born in the United States are not naturalized.

                  1. They are naturalized at birth. Also note that it says they are a “citizen”. The words “natural born” are not found in the amendment.

                    1. Based on what? Again, tell me how “born or naturalized” does not imply that people born here are not naturalized? And I don’t see why it’s supposed to be revealing that the words “natural born” aren’t there. The term “citizens” in that line is intentionally including naturalized people, the line is about saying who is a citizen, regardless of how they got their citizenship.

                    2. Since they were not born in the country to citizen parents they can not be natural born Citizens therefore the only way they can be born a citizen is to be naturalized at birth. That is made “as if natural”. Again the President must be a natural born citizen not just born a citizen.

                    3. I think the simpler explanation is that “natural born” means someone who met the conditions for citizenship at birth. It is not an extra condition beyond that.

                    4. If natural born means born what does the natural mean? You think the Framers just liked using superfluous words?

                    5. And again that’s just your opinion.

                    6. Natural means native born. There is actually plenty of precedent dating back to English law for this. “Natural born” essentially means one is naturally a citizen by virtue of birth. I don’t see how you’re construing it to mean “natural” only refers to to some people who get citizenship at birth. You’re presenting your position as if it’s inarguably correct and only perversion of the meaning has changed it, but you haven’t presented a shred of evidence to support that.

                    7. Native born? So you’re saying you have to be born in the country. That means a child born in the US to illegals could be President while the child born to two citizens outside the US could not. Do you really think that was the Framers intent?

                    8. The general understanding is that both children are eligible. You’re the only one trying to restrict anyone. And you’re trying to restrict a specific person who was actually born on US soil.

                    9. Who through their parents have allegiance to a foreign power. Hell the US and Canada are the only first world countries that even grant birthright citizenship.

                    10. Actually, yes. The Framers were not concerned with “illegals”. That concept came much later.

          2. Chester A. Arthur’s citizenship status was questioned almost a century before Obama was born.

            1. Unfortunately it was another case of location and not parentage.

          3. Wasn’t Trump’s mother Scottish? And since without a DNA test we can’t say for sure who’s the baby’s daddy, I’d say having a mother who is a citizen is way more important than the father.

            1. She became a citizen before he was born.

  10. Is this the same Lawrence O’Donnell who slammed Reason for ‘Never criticizing the police’ while the issue of Reason magazine that was on the stands at the time was all about prison and police reform?

  11. I’m just gonna put this out there because as a Canadian I say the things you all privately think but don’t have the balls to say because you want to protect your cocktail party invitations…I think:

    Would it be all that surprising if in fact Obama wasn’t born in America?

    And what happened to that PI who claimed to have proof that Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery anyway?

    1. What do you mean by, would it be surprising? I’m willing to admit that I can’t tell the difference between a baby born here versus born elsewhere.

      1. I’m willing to admit that I can’t tell the difference between a baby born here versus born elsewhere.

        Where is your personal “here”?

        1. Wherever I am, here for me is Guam.

          1. good god stay in the middle of the island.

            1. Or if you go to one side, make sure you send a person of equal mass to the other. That place is tippy as a canoe.

          2. Target: Guam

            The North Korean missile story.

      2. Allow me to show you some color swatches.

      3. Yeah, but babies who look like that are liable to come from over there.

    2. I’ve said it many times that I want everything any politician tries to get away with to be proven constitutional before it is official. Having said that, it is my belief Obama was born in Hawaii.

      1. My simple theory is that Obama does not exist.

      2. More proof Obama is an asshole.

        There are a few simple eligibility requirements to run for President.

        Every candidate should provide proof of eligibility when they declare candidacy. It is not controversial for anyone to demand that of a candidate.

        How long did it take for a birth certificate to show up? How long was that simple requirement resisted, and resisted by whom? Could Obama have settled the issue immediately? Yes.

    3. I don’t know who you’re referring to, but Occam’s Razor tells me they were full of shit and seeking attention.

      I would be surprised if Obama was born in Kenya, because it would require an absurdly elaborate coverup that would have needed to start when he was born, and that none of his political rivals were ever capable of exposing on top of that.

      I find the idea no more likely than the suggestion that Donald Trump was born in Scotland.

      1. All it would require is a Hawaiian birth certificate which could easily be obtained at the time.

        1. Or even “created” later.

        2. Could it? And hospital records and birth announcements in the newspaper that same week? All fake? Is it physically possible? Sure, almost anything is, but that is seriously stretching plausibility when there’s the far more likely and substantiated scenario where he was (drumroll) … born in Hawaii. There’s no evidence to suggest he was born in Kenya or that his mother was there around that time. There’s also no logical reason why a heavily pregnant American woman would go to Kenya to give birth. There’s no more evidence for an Obama birther theory than for any other president. People latched onto for one or both of the following reasons – a) bigotry b) kneejerk anti-Obama sentiment to the point of believing anything that makes him look bad no matter how baseless or illogical. There were a lot of good reasons to oppose Obama, but plenty of people latched onto a few stupid ones as well, and the birther theory was one of those.

          1. Yes it could. They even gave one to Sun Yat Sen who was like 50 at the time.

      2. Parents who have babies away from hospitals file certificates of birth or whatever each state calls them, which documents a child’s birth, when and where. If you are going to fraudulently claim was born in the USA when it was not, this is the way to do it. The parents file this after the baby is born and there is typically no doctor signature because no doctor was present for the birth. The state is counting on people not committing perjury when certifying their child was born in the USA.

        1. Of course, this does not really matter when two Americans have a baby outside US territory. There is an argument to be made that Presidental candidate would not considered “natural born citizens” if born to two American parents but outside the USA since dual citizenship could apply to the child. The founding fathers were very concerned about dual loyalty, hence that presidential qualification.

          1. The founders were concerned about (for example) a European aristocrat coming over and buying their way to the presidency. But to stretch that to include Americans who also may have been eligible for other citizenship does not necessarily follow. Other countries can have varying systems of citizenship that could confer citizenship to a child even if they have little actual connection to the place. There is quite a bit of evidence from before, during, and after the Founding era that natural born citizen was not limited to only those who had two American parents.

            1. Actually over 160 countries don’t grant birthright citizenship.

    4. Since there is well documented evidence that his mother was in Hawaii days before his birth, I’d say it would be more than a surprise, it’d be a shock that a woman ready to give birth would travel to Africa to give birth.

      1. Citation.

  12. I have my complaints with Flake. However, I think his dislike of Trump is sincere.

    I noted last summer that such a stance won’t be rewarded. Red voters will try to primary him, and Blue supporters were never going to vote for him anyway.

    Which is why I find it humorous when my Blue voting friends badmouth Flake about this. It’s just concern trolling.

  13. I dislike Mr. O’Donnell. He seems to think he’s a character on the West Wing.

  14. Fun fact: Lawrence O’Donnell is an asshole.

  15. I did not think there was much to Birtherism, but it was not utterly inconceivable that Obama was not a natural born citizen due to his unusual family history (his father never having been a citizen) and that he himself may have muddied the waters for publicity reasons. The indignant high dudgeon people like O’Donnell have worked themselves over this issue is unwarranted even given Flake’s longtime scepticism.

    1. “due to his unusual family history (his father never having been a citizen) ”

      I have doubts Obama’s father is Obama. It is possible that Obama’s father is an American citizen.

      1. What’s on the BC is what matters.

    2. It was unreasonable to question ObamaCare’s qualifications since the Constitution specifically sets out that presidents must be “natural born citizens”. Obama delaying releasing his birth certificate with the hospital and doctor’s name for months. Once I saw that he was born in a Honolulu hospital, I was satisfied. Nobody could ever prove the birth certificate was fraudulent.

      Hillary was the first “birther” anyway.

      1. *not unreasonable to question….

  16. Or as a more gleeful Daily Kos headline put it, “It’s Unanimous: Obama Born in Hawaii [and Freeper Meltdown].”
    How is 378-0 unanimous when there are 435 members of the House?

    1. Check the last column (NV) dipshit.

  17. Pundits are such self aggrandizing douchebags.

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