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Jeff Flake's Rhetorical Games On Background Checks Come Back To Haunt Him

Flake-2012
AP Photo / Matt York

The Daily News report was picked up by the Huffington Post, The Atlantic Wire and ThinkProgress, among others, with the brutal implication that he flat-out lied to a mother of a murdered child about his support for a policy that may prevent future deaths.

His remarks were indeed misleading and suggested that he was prepared to support the background check legislation. But there's more to it -- Flake was using coded language to obscure what has been his policy position throughout the debate: he has consistently opposed expanding mandatory background checks to additional gun sales while supporting overhauling the FBI criminal check system to include more information on mental health.

Flake announced before the Manchin-Toomey vote that he would oppose the bill. He instead cosponsored legislation with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), backed by the National Rifle Association, to streamline the existing background check system but not expand mandatory checks. The measure was folded into a substitute bill by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Flake voted for it during the amendment process.

"While Senator Flake has never supported universal background checks, he has long supported strengthening our background checks system by making sure mental health records are more efficiently integrated into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System," Flake spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky told TPM in an email on Monday afternoon.

Flake's approach demonstrates the pitfalls of deploying confusing rhetoric to justify opposition to a popular policy. Other senators were more forthcoming in opposing background checks.

Here's the note from Flake to Teves, via the New York Daily News.

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

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