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Opinion Taking up Jeff Flake’s challenge

Sen. Jeff Flake. (Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)

In an eloquent address on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) spoke about his dear friend and fellow Arizonan, Sen. John McCain, who passed away on Saturday. Flake’s speech is worth watching or reading in full, but for now we should focus on the challenge he set forth:

We may never see his like again, and so for the sake of the country he loved, we owe it to his memory to be more like him, so that when the season of mourning is over we don’t merely dispense with our earnest tributes and go right back to our venality. Because the poverty of our words notwithstanding, we have lately wasted a lot of words in this town doing and being everything that John McCain was not.
We would do well to allow this moment to affect us in ways reflected not merely in our words but also our deeds. We would do well to reflect on John McCain’s example today and ask ourselves if we are living up to it or even coming close.
We would do well to honor him by emulating his example.

So what acts would honor McCain and make us more like him? Let me suggest eight concrete steps, some small and some large. (I will leave out action that only the president could take — e.g., re-enter the Paris climate accords, stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, visit troops on the front lines, etc. — because that is hopeless so long as President Trump is in office.)

First, every school in America named after a Confederate historical figure should be renamed for McCain. We should not be honoring those who took up arms against the United States, but rather someone who endured unimaginable agony on our behalf and then spent the rest of his life in service to America.

Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt reflects on the life and legacy of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Second, return the 60-vote standard for nominations, both executive and judicial. It forces presidents to pick better people and Democrats and Republicans to cooperate more closely on the confirmation process. Pick a date, say January 2019, when the new rules apply.

Third, fully fund the State Department and USAID so as to continue our nonmilitary leadership in the world.  The notion that we should cut back on foreign aid and support for struggling democracies at a time when we have a world refugee crisis, the rise of illiberal, right-wing governments and a crackdown around the world on press freedom is absurd and shortsighted.

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Fourth, the Senate, as Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker practically begged, should reclaim its power over tariffs and bring our current self-destructive trade wars to an end.

Fifth, fully fund election security measure to combat foreign interference in our elections (in 2018, 2020 and beyond). Pass legislation clarifying that accepting campaign assistance from a foreign power is a felony. Set up an independent commission to make recommendations going forward as to how we combat foreign election interference.

Sixth, pass the legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee to protect the special prosecutor. Pass a sense of the Congress resolution making clear that pardoning any of the key figures in the Russia investigation, or in the investigation into Trump’s payoff to women, would be grounds for commencing impeachment hearings.

Seventh (here is where Flake and Sen. Susan Collins, who also spoke about McCain on the Senate floor on Monday, can act), demand all relevant documents regarding Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh be released before the confirmation hearing, and require as a condition of taking a vote before the midterms that he recuse himself from criminal matters (and subpoenas related thereto) in which President Trump is directly involved.

Eighth, give “dreamers” permanent relief and allow those here on temporary protected status to remain if their home countries are unsafe (by reason of war, gangs, national disaster, disease, etc.). Take whatever steps are necessary to reunite parents and children separated at the U.S. border.

There are no doubt other fitting tributes to McCain, but Congress can at least start by helping to secure our democratic institutions, conducting a humane immigration policy, pushing back against Russian aggression and re-instituting rules in the Senate that promote bipartisan cooperation. I cannot think of anyone better than Sen. Flake to lead the way.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: The human rights community lost a champion

Jennifer Rubin: McCain’s last words are hopeful 

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