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Sen. Flake Aims To Work With Trump On A Fix To Obamacare


Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has a message for those concerned about Donald Trump's presidency - calm down. It is not the message of a Trump fan. The Arizona Republican publicly criticized Trump's remarks about everything from immigration to veterans.

Did you vote for Donald Trump in the end?

JEFF FLAKE: No, I didn't. I voted for Evan McMullin. I wrote him in.

INSKEEP: That must have been a hard choice for a Republican senator.

FLAKE: It was. It was not a choice I wanted to make. I just didn't feel like I could cast my vote for Donald Trump.

INSKEEP: Now, Senator Flake waits to see what the president elect actually does. Trump's immigration proposals have changed several times. His plans on other issues are also unclear. Trump will arrive in Washington amid widespread questions about conflicts of interest with his own businesses and questions about whether Trump will respect the democratic system. But Senator Flake says he's going to try to work with him.

FLAKE: President-elect Trump won the election, and so I will work with him where I can and oppose him where the interests of Arizona dictate. So I am assuming the best and moving ahead.

INSKEEP: OK, let's talk through a few issues, then. What is something you think you can work with the president on - the new president?

FLAKE: One, Obamacare. Obviously, in Arizona, we need a fix. In 14 of 15 counties in Arizona there's only one choice. Some individuals experienced just recently a 122-percent increase in premiums. I think the average was around 50-percent increase. So that obviously needs to be dealt with. There are a number of...

INSKEEP: We should - we should clarify, I guess. With the increasing insurance rates under Obamacare, there have also been higher subsidies for individuals who've had higher rates, so they're covered, but I guess businesses are not necessarily covered as their rates go up. Is that right?

FLAKE: Yes, most individuals do receive some subsidy, but they still are facing massive fees and costs when they go to the hospital and find out what their co-pays and deductibles are.

INSKEEP: But I'm interested that you say, Senator, a fix to Obamacare because we've increasingly heard from the president-elect and from others that what may emerge from this is not a total removal of Obamacare but some new plan that includes many of the features of the old plan. Is that what you're aiming for?

FLAKE: It sounds as if he wants to preserve some of the aspects. And in any event, there are contracts that will be enforced for at least the short term. And so you're not going to see a complete and utter repeal and replacement immediately. It simply - contracts don't work that way.

INSKEEP: Senator Jeff Sessions will be sent as an attorney general nominee to a committee that you're on, the Judiciary Committee, for confirmation. How are you feeling about Senator Sessions?

FLAKE: You know, I've served with Senator Sessions. We've often disagreed, particularly on immigration. I was in favor of the bipartisan bill that we passed. He opposed it quite vociferously. But I enjoy serving with him, and I plan on supporting him, unless something comes up in the hearings that I'm unaware of.

INSKEEP: As you know, he was up for Senate confirmation once before years ago, and the nomination was sunk because of alleged racial comments that he made back then and that he pushed back against. This has caused people to be concerned about whether Senator Sessions as attorney general would uphold civil rights - basic civil rights. Do you think he would?

FLAKE: I do believe he would. Like I said, I've watched him ever since I've been in the Congress. And I do believe that he will uphold the law.

INSKEEP: While we're on the subject of upholding the law, Senator, we have had Republican and Democratic ethics lawyers on the program who have said that the president-elect is on the way to a constitutional violation if he does not do something about his personal business empire. What do you think about that? And what, if anything, do you want done about it?

FLAKE: Well, he has said and the vice president has said - and others - that they will find a way to deal with these issues. And so I'll give them space. They've only been working at this for a couple of weeks. Few people expected this outcome.

INSKEEP: Senator, is democracy itself in any way in danger in this situation that we're entering?

FLAKE: We have a strong and durable system here. I tried to stress that before the election. There were many on the right. You heard this kind of apocalyptic view - if Hillary Clinton were to be elected that this would be the last election. And - and I threw a lot of cold water on that. And those on the left who are expressing similar concerns, I'll throw similar cold water there. This is a durable system here. We have checks and balances, and we'll be fine. We'll be fine.

INSKEEP: Do you believe that you and the United States Senate will have sufficient power to provide a check on this president should he do something that you feel is beyond the law?

FLAKE: Yes. Let me say, I'm not assuming that he will. There is a difference between governing and campaigning. But yes, I do feel that the institutions are strong, particularly the Article One branch - the Congress.

INSKEEP: One last thing, Senator. I'm remembering during the campaign when you were critical of Trump. Mike Huckabee, one of his supporters, publicly said, that's going to be really bad for Arizona. There's going to be some time when Jeff Flake wants something for Arizona from President Trump, and he's not going to get it. Do you have any indication that - that you're going to get less or your state's going to get less out of this administration because you were critical of the president-elect?

FLAKE: No. These things work both ways. Obviously the president needs the Congress. The Congress needs the president. We find a way to work together, and I can't foresee a way that he would try to punish the state. I'm not the only representative from Arizona. Some others supported Donald Trump during the campaign, so I think we're going to be fine.

INSKEEP: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

FLAKE: You bet. Nice to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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