After voting against proposed reforms to our nation's background checks system for gun sales, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) recently admitted that his approval ratings are "just below pond scum." But the newly-coined least popular senator in the nation should take comfort knowing that with just 32% of Arizonans approving of how he's doing his job, he's still double digits above Congress' 15% approval rating. And Senator Flake would probably also beat out North Korea, the Kardashians, gonorrhea, and ebola in a popularity contest, although no direct comparisons have been made (yet).
Senator Flake's polling nosedive began when he decided to oppose the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill after previously supporting stronger background checks. Before the vote, he even told Caren Teves, whose son Alex was killed at the Aurora theatre shootings, that "strengthening background checks is something we can agree on." Yet Flake ultimately supported the Senate's successful filibuster of the bill, essentially parroting a since-debunked NRA talking point that the Manchin-Toomey bill would require background checks for "almost all private transfers [of guns] - including between friends and neighbors." In fact, the bill did no such thing, instead requiring background checks for Internet and gun show sales only.
Then just last week, Flake changed his tune, explaining he could potentially support a revised bill if it did not require "costly and inconvenient" background checks for sales between friends that involve texts, emails, or Facebook posts. Even then, the original Manchin-Toomey bill explicitly excluded friends and neighbors who give or sell guns to each other.
While it remains to be seen whether Flake will become one of five senators needed to overcome the certain filibuster of a revised background checks bill, his polling conundrum speaks to the country's broader dissatisfaction with Congress. As was widely reported, Senator Flake wasn't alone in his polling troubles, as at least four other senators who opposed the Manchin-Toomey legislation saw a precipitous numbers drop. Yet, unlike some of his more popular colleagues, Senator Flake has staked out a middle ground on some hot-button issues, even supporting bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform proposed by the "Gang of Eight."
Disagreements with the senator's position on gun issues aside, one has to wonder whether his constituents are equally punishing Flake's middle ground on immigration reform. If true, this is troubling when considering our historically hyper-partisan and gridlocked Congress. More cooperation, not less, should be encouraged and praised whenever it occurs, particularly when poll-tested, hard-line positions typically rule the day in Washington.
Which is why Senator Flake deserves some credit for staking out his position on the merits of the Manchin-Toomey bill. While I disagree with his reasoning (and much of it turned out to be wrong), Flake is rightly open to compromise. He has correctly praised gun reform advocates in Arizona, saying he "admire(s) and respect(s) them for their strong views." To those personally impacted by gun violence (including his close friend, Gabby Giffords), praise falls far short of action, and indeed Flake could show his respect for victims of violence by supporting common-sense reform.
But Arizonans should still give Senator Flake a chance to redeem himself and reach across the aisle. If he does, he may accomplish something Congress isn't exactly known for — getting things done. Until then, lice and brussel sprouts have a better chance of winning reelection.