With the nation’s eyes focused on him, Senator Jeff Flake came Monday to Boston and offered his most extensive remarks yet on why he pushed to delay the Senate’s vote on Brett Kavanaugh while the FBI investigates decades-old allegations of sexual assault against the Supreme Court nominee.
Flake told the Forbes Under 30 Summit that “any current, credible allegation that has been made” should be “fully investigated” during the FBI’s weeklong probe.
“Right now the FBI is investigating, and that’s a good thing,” Flake said. “We ought to have more information, not less.”
For several rainy hours on Monday, City Hall Plaza played host to the rancorous and divisive national debate over Kavanaugh’s nomination. Demonstrators assembled Monday morning to demand senators reject the appellate judge, as liberal luminaries vowed that lawmakers who protect perpetrators of sexual assault would lose their jobs.
Flake, speaking in New Hampshire later in the day, said he has an “open mind” on whether Kavanaugh should be confirmed and will wait to see if the FBI finds evidence to corroborate the account of Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychologist who alleged Kavanaugh assaulted her when they where in high school.
The Arizona Republican stunned the political world when he said at a Judiciary Committee meeting Friday that he would vote to move the nomination to the full Senate with the caveat that the FBI review the allegations before a final vote.
His comments came after Ford said during emotional testimony before the committee that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh has adamantly denied the allegation, as well as claims from two other women who have accused him of sexual misconduct during his high school and college years.
On Monday, though Flake received applause from many of the hundreds of spectators at the summit event, there were a smattering of boos when he said that while Ford offered “compelling, credible testimony,” Kavanaugh made an “impassioned, very raw defense and rebuttal to what was going on. . . . That was seen as very effective as well.”
Flake conceded that “some people were turned off by the rawness of it, but as I said at the time, had I been what I felt was unjustly accused, that’s probably how I would have responded as well.”
Flake’s appearance was part of the Forbes Under 30 Summit, an annual event that fetes thousands of twentysomethings with speeches from celebrities and leaders in business, politics, and entrepreneurship. John Kerry, the former secretary of state, in his earlier remarks to the confab, said he was dismayed by the Kavanaugh hearings.
“I felt very sad for the United States Senate,” said Kerry, himself a former senator. “I thought it was a bad moment in many different ways. I think both of the principals were not treated in a way that this process ought to treat people.”
As Kerry waited to take the stage on City Hall Plaza, Flake was seen on the phone, walking in and out of a white tent. Later Flake said to the crowd of roughly 600 that he and his staff were continuing to negotiate the scope of the FBI investigation with the White House counsel’s office, including a conversation “just 5 minutes ago.”
During the 18 minutes he was on stage, the White House said the FBI would expand the scope of the investigation.
“It does no good to have an investigation that just gives us more cover,” Flake said.
Some spectators stood silently during Flake’s remarks, holding protest signs, while other demonstrators chanted “vote no.”
Hours earlier, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Boston University graduate who stunned New York’s political establishment with her recent Democratic primary victory over a powerful incumbent in that state, called sexual assault one of the most “serious, serious” allegations that a public servant can face.
“Can you imagine if Brett Kavanaugh had to sit before of a panel of 11 women of color deciding his fate?” Ocasio-Cortez said. She also issued a warning to lawmakers nationwide who protect perpetrators: “We will end your career by electing survivors to office.”
Joining her was Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who won a Democratic congressional primary last month. Pressley, who is also a sexual assault survivor, said Kavanaugh is not entitled to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.
She thanked the two women who tearfully confronted Flake in an elevator in the Senate building on Friday. On live television, both women, one of them a recent Northeastern University graduate, said they were victims of sexual assault and felt his vote sent the message their experience didn’t matter.
Asked about the interaction during Monday’s summit in Boston, Flake said Ford’s testimony “really emboldened a lot of women to come forward. . . . I’m not sure any of my colleagues had one [interaction] quite like that, but all of us have had experiences like this in the last week.”
Asked on the CBS program “60 Minutes” Sunday whether he could have had the gumption to call for such a delay if he were seeking reelection this year, Flake said, “not a chance.”
But there is a chance that Flake may mount a 2020 Republican primary challenge to President Trump. His trip to New Hampshire was his second to the state, which traditionally holds the nation’s first presidential primary.
“I do hope that somebody else runs in the Republican primary,” Flake said in Boston. But, he added, “I don’t see that happening in my case.”
In a speech to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Flake cast himself as a reasonable man ashamed of the partisan politics of Washington today.
“If you want to make America great as an elected official, be humble, conduct yourself in good faith, and when necessary, compromise to find solutions,” he said. “If the past week has taught me anything, it is that this country is hungry for us to work together again on their behalf.”Michael Levenson and Laura Krantz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JamesPindell. Travis Andersen can be reached email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Click here to subscribe to Pindell’s Ground Game newsletter on politics.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the person Flake said he would vote for Friday. The Arizona Republican said he would vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.