The Least Popular Senator in America

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 2 2013 10:24 AM

Jeff Flake Isn't Done With Guns

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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) talks to a reporter at the end of a news conference on March 6, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

PHOENIX — In between interviews with immigration restrictionists and before heading to the U.S.-Mexico border, I stopped by the local office of newly elected Sen. Jeff Flake—a proud Gang of Eight member. A Public Policy Polling survey released this week put Flake's approval rating at 37 percent, making him the "least popular senator in America." Driving around town, I heard local news mention this again and again.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"Notwithstanding the polling firm's leftist bent," Flake wrote on Facebook after the numbers came out, "I would assume that my poll numbers have indeed taken a southerly turn since my vote against the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal. It was a popular amendment, and I voted against it."

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I mostly talked to Flake about immigration (story coming later today), but I asked him about the poll, too. Did his immigration stance have anything to do with the slide?

"I don't think so," said Flake. "If you look at that poll, the relevant question implied that I'm against background checks. A reasonable person could infer, from that question, that I voted to repeal current background checks. And breaking news: Democratic-leaning firm says Republican is unpopular!"*

But do Democrats still consider him reachable? Had Joe Manchin reached out to him about another gun vote?

"Joe has—not in specifics, but I've said all along we need to strengthen the background check system, particularly when it comes to the mentally ill," said Flake. "The problem with Manchin-Toomey, in my view, was it took the definition of commercial transaction as basically anything touching the Internet. That's how people communicate! You send a text, you send an email to five buddies asking whether they want to buy your gun. That's a commercial sale? That's far too broad. They reached out. I have no idea whether the Democrats will bring it back, but I've said all along there are things we need to fix, particularly with the mentally ill, and the Graham-Begich-Pryor bill with definition of mental health, making it easier for states to move on that, making it easier for the federal government to restrict things to those adjudicated mentally ill. I think we need to revist that."

* Side note: PPP correctly predicted the late momentum that won the 2012 election for Flake.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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