Arizona GOP Senator Jeff Flake won't seek re-election in 2018, NBC News reports. Flake, who has frequently clashed with Donald Trump, made the announcement today and accompanied it with a scathing speech directed at the president and the direction of the Republican party.
"We must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal," Flake said, speaking from the Senate floor. "I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit and silent. When the next generation asks us, why didn’t you do something, why didn’t you speak up, what are we going to say?"
It didn't take long for the White House to respond. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Flake's criticism as "petty" and used the opportunity to criticize both Flake and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, another Trump critic who has announced his retirement.
"I think that the people both in Tennessee and Arizona supported this president, and I don’t think that the numbers are in the favor of either of the two senators in their states, and so I think that this is probably the right decision," Sanders said.
Without the concern of re-election, both Flake and Corker are free to openly criticize Trump. Flake has also expressed that he's dissatisfied with the direction of the Republican party. If he had chosen to run again, he would have faced stiff competition from former state Sen. Kelli Ward, a firebrand conservative who has the support of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon.
"There may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party," Flake told The Arizona Republic.
"The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters — the notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided," Flake said on the Senate floor today.
Senators from both parties expressed disappointment by Flake's decision. Republican John Cornyn called it "a very sad day" and Susan Collins said she was "incredibly disappointed."
Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was Hillary Clinton's 2016 running mate, became visibly emotional. "When someone as good and decent a person as Jeff Flake does not think he can continue in the body, it's a very tragic day for the institution," Kaine said.