Podcast Transcript: Senators Coons and Flake

Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons join Jeffrey Rosen in a conversation recorded live earlier this week at The Atlantic Festival in Washington D.C. 

BOB COHN:  We'd like to conclude today with Article I of the Constitution, the Congress.  So, we turn to two men at the center of our national conversation right now, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  And together they are the architects of a process that is playing out right now, in real time.

They broke away from a leadership meeting to be with us today.  And we're grateful to have them.  Please welcome Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona…

(APPLAUSE)

... and Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware.  They are here with Jeff Rosen.

(APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY ROSEN:  Senators Coons and Flake, we invited you to this event about a month ago.  Thank you so much for precipitating a constitutional crisis to justify our conversation this morning…

(LAUGHTER)

...for precipitating it and avoiding it.  And we are here to discuss, gravely, serious questions.  And that is the future of the Senate as an institution, and that is the future of the Supreme Court as an institution.  And how, as you so eloquently said, Senator Flake, to prevent the country from tearing itself apart at a time when the legitimacy of both of those institutions is under siege.

I'm required, though, by my editor, Jeff Goldberg, senator, just to ask an easy question just to start us off.  So, this is from Goldberg.  The question is, what is the state of play today, and what would it take for the FBI investigation to reveal to get you to consider voting against Brett Kavanaugh? 

SEN. JEFF FLAKE: Chris?

(LAUGHTER)

ROSEN:  No—no.

FLAKE:  That almost worked.

ROSEN:  Absolutely.  Nice try.

(LAUGHTER)

FLAKE:  The state of play today is the investigation is ongoing.  The—they interviewed the first four that were named, and have branched off from there is my understanding, and are interviewing additional individuals and—as it should it be.

And I hope that they follow leads that come from those first interviews.  The—what—the agreement that we struck—the compromise that we struck that we'd have something that was limited by time, as Chris outlined it in a speech before we—we went outside, to one week.  And then we would limit the scope, the scope being limited to two current credible allegations.

We didn't want to throw something open for allegations to come out like the Rhode Island boat thing that was out and then retracted, or—or some of the more outlandish ones out there.

And we—we checked with DOJ, and they assured that this was in—within what, you know, the timeframe that they could do it.

We both hope —  and have been pushing —  the White House to —  to make sure it's a fulsome investigation, that it's not unduly limited.  And I —I hope they're doing it to find fact. 

We have not seen any of the reporting yet.  We were told it might come back more in real time, and that we might have some decisions to make in terms of where they go.

My hope is that they—as—as they interview these individuals, then they'll immediately follow up on other leads that that might—they might have.

So we don't know exactly where it is in terms of what it will take.  I—I—I just hope that we find fact.  And I—I have an open mind, just like I had in the hearings.  And we'll see what they come back with.  I don't want to prejudge it. 

ROSEN:  Thank you for that. 

Chris, some Democrats have taken the position that regardless of what emerges from the investigation, the nominee's temperament and conduct in the hearings is disqualifying. 

Could anything from the investigation make you vote in favor of Kavanaugh?

SEN. CHRIS COONS:  What I think is important, Jeffrey, about the moment we have here is that, as we ground towards the end of—of Friday's committee deliberations, they got sharper and hotter and more partisan and more personal.  To the point where I think, Senator Flake correctly perceived, that the nine-hour hearing the day before, which had presented two compelling, forceful testimonies, two completely opposite sets of facts and conclusions, was really having an impact in a lasting way on the credibility of the institution of the Senate.

And if the nomination was forced forward with no more further investigation, would have a lasting impact on the credibility of the court.

You asked a direct question, I'll give you a direct answer.  I had announced a conclusion in my view about Judge Kavanaugh, based on his jurisprudence, before we got to this point.  And that's not an opinion that is shared by many Republican colleagues, and I understand that.

But what I think Senator Flake did that was exception and praiseworthy, is to say, we have to come closer in terms of our understanding of facts, even though Democrats and Republicans will almost certainly continue to have very different opinions about Judge Kavanaugh from a policy perspective.

Jeff's a real conservative.  He would like—not to speak for you, but my strong impression is, he'd really like a conservative justice on the Supreme Court.  I'm not.  I really don't want someone with Judge Kavanaugh's views of presidential power, or views of substantive due process, or likely jurisprudence privacy and around the most recent significant decisions by Justice Kennedy.

So I'm not going to change my views on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination based on that.  But I think agreeing that we should have a week for a fulsome, but time and scope prescribed FBI investigation, we have to recognize, raises the possibility of Kavanaugh being cleared of some or all of these allegations, and the possibility of Dr. Ford being corroborated in some or all of these investigations. And gives us a week to hear each other, and to show the American people that we took a week to hear allegations that we've gotten from everywhere.

I've had the most amazing couple of days.  Literally yesterday, in the morning in Delaware, where I woke up, and at a—a function late at night at a fire hall, I've had women I have known for years or decades come up to me and share with me the most riveting, painful, incredible accounts of sexual assault that they have never shared before, that they haven't shared with their husbands, with their sons, with their family, with their community.  And if nothing else was accomplished here, it was a—a strong signal by Senator Flake that we are willing to take a week to hear each other and to take seriously the idea of improving the facts that we have.

It may not change the outcome whatsoever, but it's a really significant statement, that the cooling saucer of the Senate can still, though cracked, perform its functions.  And that the response Jeff got from you when we walked into the room, suggests there is a hunger in the country for this to be not exceptional, bur ordinary, for there to be reasonableness even when we have such sharply different policy views.

I genuinely like and admire Senator Flake.  And it's…

(APPLAUSE)

Even though we vote opposite ways all the time.

(LAUGHTER)

FLAKE:  He'll come around.  He'll come around. 

COONS:  That's got to be typical, not exceptional.

ROSEN:  Let me just say how inspiring it is to hear both of you describe your desire to do exactly what Madison hoped, which is to have senators listen to each other and have the country respect in a deliberative way.

And thank you for giving us a week and saving the Senate. 

But, Senator, you care so deeply about the institution.  What happens next?  (Inaudible) he will be corroborated or exonerated, confirmed or not, the partisan passions will be strong and you are retiring.  What will—do you believe will be the future of the Senate after you are gone?  And will it—its institutional legitimacy be preserved?

FLAKE:  Right.  Look—before I say that, let me just say, you know, and—you often hear politicians say, “My friend over there,” before they try to gouge your eyes out.

(LAUGHTER)

But—but when I look at Chris, he truly is my friend.  And we have traveled a lot.  We both spent part of our misspent youth in—in Africa, he in Kenya and East Africa and me in Southern Africa.  And we've traveled to that region, that continent a number of times.  And we've been chased by elephants in Mozambique.  We spent a very memorable four hours with one of the worst dictators, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

We—we've been through a lot.  And that, the trust that you develop, working with each other on issues like that—wildlife preservation or Zedara (ph) or—or other issues, that's—that's how compromises are possible. 

And there's less and less of that going on.  I—memorably, a few years ago, wanted to prove that Republicans and Democrats could get along, so Martin Heinrich and I marooned ourselves on a Pacific island for a week, Discovery Channel came along and filmed it and called it “Rival Survival.”  Just…

(LAUGHTER)

... gave us a machete between us, and that was—no, really.  You can get it on Amazon for $2.99 still…

(LAUGHTER)

... and I think it still aired under—between episodes of “Naked and Afraid,” but we were neither.  Maybe afraid, but…

(LAUGHTER)

... but we got back, and went on David Letterman and Colbert ran a clip of us and said that “Flake and Heinrich have proved once and for all, Republicans and Democrats can get along if death is the only option.”  So.

(LAUGHTER)

Unfortunately, that's about where we are.  But—but we—and I do worry about the future of the Senate.  It's always been the body that—the rules of the Senate bring you together.  It's very seldom that one party has 60 votes.  And so the—the filibuster rule requires—and that's what I like about the Senate.  I served 12 years in the House.  I love the people's House.  But the Senate requires and pushes you together.  But lately, there have been so many things that simply have drove us apart. 

And I don't know how we get back—the incentives are all the other day.  There are—there's no currency for bipartisanship.  If you act bipartisan, it shows up in your opponent's campaign ads. 

And we've got to come to a point again where the—the failure to—to compromise, the failure to reach across the aisle—particularly in the Senate—is punished at the ballot box rather than rewarded.

And—and I don't know how we get there, but we—we need to.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSEN:  Chris, if you had to name the three top causes of this polarization, what would they be?  What can we do to fix it?  And what are you going to do after Jeff Flake is gone?

COONS:  Miss him a lot.

So top causes.  We don't live together.  So we travel back and forth to our home states every week.  For Delaware, I've traveled back and forth to my home state almost every day, so I'm an exception. 

But for most of the Senate, listening to Joe Biden, my predecessor, and asking him how he and John McCain, for example, built a working friendship over decades, everyone would come in on Monday and stay until Friday, and often move their families here and often live here for long periods of time.

So you'd get to know each other as parents at a baseball game or a lacrosse game, rather than just as two-dimensional cutouts fighting each other on cable.  First—second, cartoon cutouts fighting each other on cable. 

The disaggregation of news and the, frankly, steady degeneration caused by Twitter and the smash mouth politics of the time.

Third, how we raise money.  There—there's no longer a role, really, for parties.  There should be.  It's not as strong as it used to be.  But you can raise a million dollars in your first day as an opponent who's won a primary by being more extreme than the other.

In 2010, as you may recall, Mike Castle, a well—respected centrist Republican, was my expected general election opponent.  Christine O'Donnell beat him in a primary that had a tiny turnout, very low participation.  She raised a million bucks the next day, on one cable TV show.

When you can fuel that, it accentuates the idea that you don't want to live in Washington and you don't want to be part of the swamp.  You can appeal to tighter and tighter segments of more and more motivated potential voters or donors, using social media and cable.  And then what provides you with the resources to win is less and less connected to having a broad base of support in your home state.

And last, travel.  I got—there's three things that I think, to answer the opposite.  What are three things that have brought us together? 

Spending time in places where we aren't surrounded by—forgive me—the press, lobbyists, staff, other folks.  Working out in the gym.  Going to—I am the co—chair of the weekly prayer breakfast, that is broadly bipartisan but is only senators.  And traveling overseas.

I think Jeff and I, because we spent young—when we were young men, we spent periods of our lives seeing the United States from another part of the world.  We understand the ways in which, when our democracy is dysfunctional and when the world sees bickering and—and frankly, gridlock, there are competing models for how to organize society.  And on the continent of Africa, they are ascendant. 

Democracy matters and we have to act like we care about it, and fight for it.  Because at the end of the day, there's other ways to organize societies.  And as the founders saw, if you aren't careful about the mischiefs of faction, you will end up with a country that's no longer a model for democracy.

FLAKE:  Let me just add.

ROSEN:  Same question to you please.

FLAKE:  Yes.

ROSEN:  (inaudible), and what do you think are the causes of this polarization?  And what would you do?

FLAKE:  I—he hit it.  You know, not—not chop (ph) it.  I mean, when I got here to Congress, in the House, I read the book by Mo Udall, “The Job of a Congressman.”  He felt—his desire to, you know, talk about what it was like in the 60s.  And I remember reading that he said we have in our MRA, or the office budget account, enough money to travel home three times a year—travel back to Arizona three times a year.

The rest of the time they were here.  Their kids went to school together.  They associated and it was just a different environment.  I'm not suggesting we'll ever go back to that period, but that's—that's part of the issue now.

But I would just add to what Chris says.  It's not just the friendships that—that come.  It's just common decency.  And we saw a great example of it a few months ago.  It was a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for Mike Pompeo.  It was a tight vote.

And—and it was a—it was, mostly, partisan.  Johnny Isakson was home delivering a eulogy for his—his best friend.  Johnny had some health issues and it was tough for him to, you know, in the middle of the night, travel back for one vote and have to pull everybody in.

And there used to be something in—in Congress and the Senate, in particular, called pairing.  If one Democrat had to be gone for some reason unavoidable, a Republican—a Republican friend would say, I'll vote the other way or I won't vote to not upset the balance just as a measure of courtesy if—if it wasn't something that would change a huge outcome.

But just as—as something courteous.  And Johnny called—called Chris and asked if he would do that.  And—and Chris did.  And it was the first example of that that I've seen in years, and years—and years.  And it—it—it moved Bob Corker to tears, our chairman, because it's just so infrequent.  And—and that's—you know, it's not as much friendships developed or whatever else, but it's just common decency that—that you just—these days, it's—it's punished.

I remember well when Tim Kaine was picked to be Hillary Clinton's running mate.  Tim and I were elected together.  We don't agree much, but we work together on a number of things like an AUMF and whatnot.

Well, we disagree a lot, but he's a decent carrying, smart senator.  And just as, kind of, a playful jab, I tweeted out, now I have to count the ways I hate Tim Kaine…

(LAUGHTER)

  ...but I'm drawing a blank.  He's a good man and a good friend.  Congratulations.  There was, immediately, unhinged fury…

(LAUGHTER)

  ...from tweets, and e-mails, and texts, from my side of aisle, saying, you know, how can you do that?  And I was even at a Republican event, I kid you not, the next day or two days later in Arizona, and somebody came up to me and they said, what's wrong with you?  If you can't say anything bad, don't—and he stopped.

(LAUGHTER)

It was—it was like he—he's reversing the advice he got from his mother, I'm sure, every day of his life.  But that's just—that is the result of a shattered politics.  That's where we are.  And it's going to be tough to reverse because the incentives all push us that way.

ROSEN:  Chris, is this inspiring moment we're having like the false peace in the weeks after Sarajevo?  Is this the last time that we'll see two senators discussing institution? 

And if Kavanaugh is confirmed, will there be so much partisan bitterness, despite this welcome respite, that the Senate will never recover and Jeff is retiring.  And will you ever be able to have these moments of bipartisan comity again?  And what will the consequences be for the country if the Senate explodes in this way?

COONS:  Look, my—my wife and I sat down and had a heartfelt conversation.  I'm up this cycle, but, you know, I'm up for reelection in two more years.  And we had a conversation last week.  And I'll just be blunt, is this really worth our time?  And I don't mean that in a—I mean, it's an incredible honor to serve in the Senate of the United Sates.

But I, enormously, frustrated at how little progress we are making, tackling the huge issues, right in front of us, that affect average Americans, and that affect our place in the world.

And I'm facing a Senate without Senator Flake, without Jeff, without Senator McCain who was a great partner on foreign policy and security issues.  Without Bob Corker who was my most prolific legislative partner on foreign relations.

These are three folks I've worked very hard to build good relationships with, and who have been just tremendous partners.  And I said to my wife, I don't know if this is a good investment.  But I know this, if the Senate doesn't work, our constitution, our Republic, our nation doesn't work.

I cannot abandon this post.  If the people of Delaware will have me, I'll do it again.  And I want to tell you…

(APPLAUSE)

  ...that my senior senator faced a significant primary challenge from the left in a way I have seen in my state in a long time.  And the politics of my party are beginning to resemble the politics of the other party in ways that concern me, so, two encouraging stories if I can?

Jeff and I went to Senator McCain's funeral, together, in Phoenix.  And when I got back, I made a point of going up to several, relatively, new senators who I overlap with on a committee, an area of interest, an area of background, but where we don't really know each other that well.

And I said, bluntly, I want to come get to know you.  I want to come to your state.  I want to come to your home.  I welcome you to mine.  I'd like to go to worship together.  I'd like to give a speech together.  I'd like to find a way to legislate together.  Because if there aren't people I can work with, there is really no point in my being here, first.

Second, the very kind antidote that Jeff shared about my doing some very small thing to accommodate my good friend Johnny Isakson, which should be typical, not exceptional, was occasioned by—and this is meant to be an encouraging story.

The day my father died, February, last year, I was here in Washington and I got the news in the middle of the night.  And I went to the floor, and I looked about as miserable as I think I've ever looked.

And a senator who I know through prayer breakfast, a very conservative, relatively new senator from South Dakota, Mike Rounds, came across the floor, gave me a hug, looked me in the eye and said, whatever additional votes there are today, Chris, I will pair with you so that you can go be with your family.

That touched me deeply.  He is going to continue as a senator.  Jeff has done amazing work on immigration, and has really taken hard chances to accomplish immigration reform.  Mike is someone who I hope to legislate with on a range of areas.

He was part of that Common Sense Caucus, trying to get to a solution on dreamers and border security.  There are folks I am hopeful I can work with.  I doubt I will ever get chased by elephants in Mozambique with them.

(LAUGHTER)

FLAKE:  You'd think those elephants would have a little professional courtesy.

(LAUGHTER)

COONS:  But I—you know, in answer to your question, Jeff, I—I just wanted to say that, you know, our—it's up to you.  It's up to the citizens of this country to recognize that if you support and advocate for and fund candidates who are unyielding and personally vicious, that's the politics we'll get. 

This is a democracy.  My father served in the first infantry for a reason.  My brother in the second armored for a reason.  They weren't there because it was expected and a hobby and a great way to build their resumes. 

They were there because generations of Americans have stood up for democracy, and continue to do so today in hard places around the world.

And if we don't feel like we mean it, and we're not committed to it, then there are competing models for the world that would be happy to take our place on the world stage and in history, and I am determined that will not happen.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSEN:  Senator, you gave a very inspiring speech for your determination to unite the country rather than tear it apart.  Once you have left the Senate, what will you do to advance that crucially important mission for the future of our Republic?

I know you're asked if you'll run for president.  And I'll ask you that.  But in addition, what will you do to shore up the institution of the Senate and to heal this wounded country for the future of America?

FLAKE:  Well, I'm not leaving the Senate because it's—you know, I'm tired of this institution or a pox on all your houses.  This is—it's a wonderful institution with wonderful people.

And we—we've got to find a way to get together.  So I—I simply couldn't run the kind of campaign I felt I needed to run in this environment, and succeed.  That's the bottom line.

But—but I will stay involved, certainly.  I don't know at what level or in what way.  But this is important.  If—I mean, the Senate as an institution has to be there.  it's a bulwark.  Particularly when we're talking about foreign policy, as Chris is.

The Senate has always been—you know, in the six-year terms, the—the body, you know, with roles that the House doesn't have in terms of advise and consent, on ambassador nominees.  And president's cabinet.  And a court.

But the ability, with a longer term, to see beyond the—the hill.  And to develop relationships.  You saw Senator McCain, relationships he built around the world.  And much of Senator McCain's final year in the Senate were spent reassuring allies that we are still their allies.  That's important.

And whatever role I can play outside of this body, I'll play.  Because it's—it's vital.  It's important.  The—the Senate as an institution needs to return to its former glory, I guess.  Put it that way.  It's the most deliberative body in the world.  And it would be tough to make the case that it is, right now. 

So I—I will—I will play a role.  I will stay involved.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSEN:  Let's talk about the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court.  If Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, Chris, there will be some Democrats who will refuse to accept his legitimacy because of his statements in the hearings.

And we face the prospect of five-to-four decisions of Republicans against Democrats in ways that could fundamentally undermine faith in the rule of law.  Much will turn on Chief Justice John Roberts, in an effort to avoid this. 

Tell us what you think Roberts must do—should do—in order to preserve the legitimacy of the court.  Are you concerned about its legitimacy, and what would be the consequences of citizens losing faith in the nonpartisan legitimacy of the rule of law?

COONS:  Partly why this moment is so powerful and so fraught is that we have asked the Supreme Court to be the arbiter, the deciding point for some of our most personal, passionate, powerful issues as a country.

So it—in the arc of our lifetimes, you know, from racial integration to gun ownership, from marriage equality to, now, sexual harassment, issues have been put onto the court that cannot be easily resolved in legislative processes, and that have taken a constitutional hue.  But in some ways, define our sense of ourselves and our scope and our role as citizens.

How much can we contribute, and to whom?  Citizens United.  Can the government surveil our most private communications?  How do we treat those who are captured in the course of combat?  What—I mean, you know, the Supreme Court is the place that we look to in the last 60, 70 years, to make these values decisions for the country.

We've been able to have it play that role and not tear the country apart partly because of this legitimacy, which is intensely fragile. 

The point of the robes is to make them all sort of look more similar.  “They don't have an army,” as I think President Jackson memorably pointed out. 

Their force is in their credibility as independent arbiters of the Constitution.  It is gravely at risk.  The way we've conducted ourselves as senators, the way we talk to each other, the way we describe these issues and the ways in which Judge Kavanaugh's character and credibility have been challenged and put on trial, and ways in which he spoke to us as a committee that I thought were overly partisan.  All of this is a steamy jambalaya that goes right at the credibility of the court.

Chief Justice Roberts, I believe, is an institutionalist who understands how fragile the credibility of the court is.  And, you know, my hope is that we will conduct ourselves even though it is inevitable, there will be deep bitterness and anger and frustration at the outcome of this nomination, no matter how it ends.

Is that we will reduce the frequency with which we describe judges as wearing blue and red jerseys.  In casual conversation, we now say, “So-and-so,” comma, “an Obama judge;” “So-and-so,” comma, “a Bush judge;” “so-and-so,” comma, “a Trump judge,” as if that tells you exactly what they will decide.

There are two new federal judges in Delaware.  Where—I worked well and professionally and easily with Don McGahn.  They are Trump nominees.  Senator Carper and I returned blue slips.  They were confirmed nearly unanimously by the court—excuse me, by the Senate—and I think will serve admirably and long on our court.

Do I think it is fair to them to call them “Trump judges” with the opprobrium that that brings in my party?  Or to have the other party call them “Trump judges” with an expectation that that tells you the arc of their judicial service?  No.

And we've allowed that approach—we do wear red and blue jerseys.  We are elected as members of parties and as partisans.  We work hard to respect each other and know each other across that, but our judiciary has now been profoundly affected by the way we behave and speak.

I think we are really at risk of losing that.  And so, you know, Jeff spoke early on in this exchange about the ways the Senate is different from the House.  Changing the rules on confirmation of judges—something Democrats did first, and then Republicans followed out lead—not having a 60-vote threshold.  Long periods of obstruction.  Holding certain seats open.  Refusing to confirm qualified nominees of the other party. 

I mean, part of Lindsey Graham's white-hot anger was because he voted for Sotomayor and for Kagan, and cannot believe it is legitimate for someone like me to not be voting for a Judge Gorsuch, given his credentials.  So—I'm just citing an example that Lindsey and I had a conversation about. 

So, you know, there's a lot of he-said-she-said back and forth, dislike, distrust between senators on this.  If we have a court that begins to behave in a way you really can predict exactly how they will decide for the rest of their careers, based on who nominated them, heaven help us.  Because the court cannot become as partisan and divided as the Congress and as the country.

ROSEN:  Senator, I'll just ask what—what are your concerns about the future legitimacy of the court?  What can Chief Justice Roberts do?  And if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, some Democrats are talking about impeaching him in the House or packing the size of the Supreme Court, increasing it to 13 justices as was done in 1800 and during the Civil War.

What would you say to those Democrats about the effect of that on the future legitimacy of the rule of law?

FLAKE:  Well, it's tough.  I mean, that was just—Chris just gave a tutorial on what—and don't expect me to weave in “steamy jambalaya” into any political discussion. 

(LAUGHTER)

It's incredible.  But—but I—when I walked into that room on Friday and saw the food fight that was going on between our parties, just split on the dais—Democrats threatening to walk out and not even vote in the final vote—just going back and forth, just this vitriol.

That's when—when I sat there, and then it came to Chris, and Chris gave a very sober, rational speech about, you know, how we could move forward.  I thought, “That's what we've got to do.”  Because the—the Supreme Court is still the last bastion of—the last, you know, institution that most Americans have faith in.

And as—as Chris mentioned, that's how it has worked, for us to cede so much authority and give so much power to the Supreme Court.  Because people still have faith.  If that faith is gone, then heaven help us.

And so it is a concern.  I was—I was very troubled by the—the tone of the—of the remarks.  The initial defense that—that Judge Kavanaugh gave, was something like I—I told my wife, “I hope that I would sound that indignant if I were—if I felt that I was unjustly, you know, maligned.” 

But that it went on.  And the interaction with the members was sharp and partisan, and that concerns me.  And I tell myself, “You give a little leeway because of what he's been through.”  But on the other hand, we can't have this on the court.  We—we simply can't.

And, you know, talk of impeachment or stacking the court, it's just—it's going the wrong direction.  And I mean, this—this function has many fathers.  We can go back to, you know statements made in the 1980s, with Bork or Clarence Thomas hearings, or you name it.

You can find a villain anywhere back there.  The truth is, both parties have engaged in it and have made the situation worse.  And we—we simply have to elevate people to leadership positions and elect people who see it differently and understand the value and—and purpose of the Supreme—Supreme Court.

I do worry.  This—this red and blue jerseys, referring to each other—or these justices by who nominated them, it's just—it can't go on.

ROSEN:  As Lincoln said, I am loath to close but I can't—if—I must ask you each for very short final thoughts.  Lincoln in 1838, as we talked about earlier, warned about monocratic (ph) government, and fear that when citizens lose their allegiance to the rule of law, then liberty and the republic will falter.

Chris, what is at stake in this moment, when the legitimacy of the Senate and the Supreme Court are under siege?  And what do you want to tell your fellow citizens about what they can do about it?

COONS:  I want to tell my fellow citizens, first, that Jeff Flake is an earnest, decent, thoughtful, kind man.  A good husband and father, and someone who deeply respects our democracy and the rule of law.

And I hold that opinion fiercely about his, despite our being from different parties, different states, different backgrounds and different frames of reference, and despite our voting records being so sharply divergent.

And if citizens can't hear and respect and recognize ways in which senators, presidents, members of the House can interact with each other in a more respectful and decent and thorough way, then I am gravely concerned about the future of the rule of law, respect for core institutions of our society, and the ways in which the rest of the world sees us.

We are an exceptional experiment in human history.  Rarely, if ever, has a continental power assembled itself to be governed by its own people in an act of original creation that was exceptional but profoundly flawed.

And then gradually, diligently, over the decades, expanded the scope of justice, expanded the definition of citizenship, expanded the access to opportunity in ways that gradually made true—or more true—its opening promises.

We are an exceptional nation.  And we are at risk of losing it all through a populist mob mentality where no one can win because everyone must lose.  It's up to you folks.  And I just have eternal gratitude to my friend Jeff for making us take one week and look at each other and hear each other and respect each other.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSEN:  Senator, the last word, very appropriately, is to you.  Your thoughts and concerns about the future of the republic and the rule of law, and what is your message about what citizens can do about it.

FLAKE:  I feel like reaching over and just dropping Chris' miC, if that…

(LAUGHTER)

... I can't add to that.  This guy is incredible.  And—and the thing that I will miss most about the Senate is relationships like this, and being able to work together with people who I view as—as true statesman in every sense of the word.  And I, you know, this notion that we have to see each other differently, or we—just one example, I was on that baseball field in June of 2017, and—when the gunman opened fired.

And I just remember running to the dugout and seeing the bullets pitch off the gravel in front of me, after Steve Scalise went down, and whatnot.  But they—if there's a memory of that that stays in my mind, it's that turning and seeing that, and just thinking—it seemed like an eternity, why us, why here?

How can someone look on a field at a bunch of middle aged men playing baseball, trying to relive their youth, and see the enemy?  And—and that's what this type of politics has brought, and we just to get beyond it where we—where we look at each other across the aisle and not see the enemy.

But to see—I mentioned last night, it's—it's as if—it's as if you want to heal yourself—to heal your own brain by taking out your heart.  We are different parties, but we're part of the same organ, the same body.

And you—you've—you've got to work to get together here. We—rarely does a part, like I've said, have 60 votes.  It would be horrible if that came to be for an extended period of time.  We've got to find a way to look at each other, and trust each other again, and not question each other's motives.  And if we can do that, then we can be worthy of this republic that we have.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSEN:  Ladies and gentlemen, for their service to the United States of America, please join me in thanking Senators Coons and Flake.

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