PHOENIX (CBS 5) -- Sen. Jeff Flake, who is serving his last days in office, stopped by CBS 5 News Friday afternoon to talk about the ongoing government shutdown, the shift of his Senate seat to the Democrats, the Russia investigation, and what is next after 18 years in service.
Government shutdown and funding the wall
Arizona’s Family anchor Derek Staahl first asked about a tweet by President Donald Trump threatening to close the southern border if the wall is not funded.
“The president could shut the border down if he felt that there was a national security threat,” Flake said. “There is not one. There is tremendous commerce that goes between Mexico and the United States. It would be devastating politically – I’m sorry, economically. And it wouldn’t be good politically, either. So, I don’t think that that’s in the offing.”
The president is demanding $5 billion for the wall. Democrats offered $1.6 billion.
“The truth is we’ve been using about $1.3 billion every year to upgrade the fencing and the barriers on the border,” Flake explained.
“Very little of it is a wall, and very little of it will be a wall like the president has talked about. But in terms of keeping up with the investments that are needed, 1.3, 1.6 is about as much as we can do, as much as we can let out in terms of contracts. I think that’s where we’ll settle and everyone will declare victory, and we will go on.”
Flake's flipped Senate seat
Many have been speculating about how long the government shutdown will go on.
“My guess is it’ll go a couple of weeks after the new Congress convenes on the third,” Flake said. “I don’t think [it will end] any time soon.”
From there, the conversation turned to the fact that Flake’s Senate, which had been held by a Republican for years, flipped to the Democrats in November.
"I’m very concerned about where our Party is going,” Flake said. “I think that we’re trying to drill down on a diminishing base, and that’s my concern, particularly with the president and his influence on the Party. It’s just not a recipe for a future for Republicans. In fact, we’re writing ourselves into oblivion if we continue to appeal to a much smaller electorate and not realize that we’ve got to change.”
Flake has been outspoken in his criticism of Trump. And the president has not been a fan of Flake.
Staahl asked Flake if he bore any responsibility for the Republicans’ failure to hang on to his Senate seat.
“For myself, I just could not have stood on a stage with the president, on a campaign stage,” he said. “That’s not my kind of politics…I just couldn’t do it.”
Flake said he believes the Republicans will lose more seats in Congress.
“This right now is very much the president’s party and I think that we’re going to suffer losses …,” he explained. “In the future, we going to lose a lot more seats than we lost in the midterm unless we realize that we’ve got to appeal to a broader electorate and we get away from the politics of anger and resentment. People want to hear an optimistic message."
That message is similar to what he wrote in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, published the day after the election.
Is the Russia investigation a witch hunt?
“It’s not a witch hunt," Flake said decisively. "Bob Mueller is very disciplined; he’s doing the right thing. He needs to be allowed to finish his job without pressure from the White House or from Congress. When he finishes, then we’ll know what happened. But not until he finishes, I just want him to go where the evidence goes and not be pressured by the president or Congress.”
Flake said he believes the investigation will wrap up soon, possibly in the first quarter of 2019.
What's next for Flake?
"It’s time to let the fever cool, I think, for a while," he told Staahl. "I’ve been incredibly honored to represent this great state. [After] 18 years, it’s time for somebody else to lead."
We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with. Hard to believe there was a Congress & President who would approve!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2018
....The United States looses soooo much money on Trade with Mexico under NAFTA, over 75 Billion Dollars a year (not including Drug Money which would be many times that amount), that I would consider closing the Southern Border a “profit making operation.” We build a Wall or.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2018
.....close the Southern Border. Bring our car industry back into the United States where it belongs. Go back to pre-NAFTA, before so many of our companies and jobs were so foolishly sent to Mexico. Either we build (finish) the Wall or we close the Border......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2018
.....Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are doing nothing for the United States but taking our money. Word is that a new Caravan is forming in Honduras and they are doing nothing about it. We will be cutting off all aid to these 3 countries - taking advantage of U.S. for years!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2018