The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 4/24/13, 10:44 PM ET

GOP senator rewrites himself on crucial gun vote

Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, recently sent a hand-written letter to the mother of a victim of the Aurora movie theater shooting. He told her that ...

Flake out: Senator tells grieving mother he supports ‘strengthening background checks’ - then votes no

Updated

Why do people have such a low opinion of politicians? Let’s consider this:

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake rewrote his word to the mother of a man killed in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting. The senator told her that he supported the expansion of background checks for gun purchases–then, days later, voted against the bill that would have tightened background checks.

Caren Teves, the mother who lost her son in the massacre, first wrote to the Republican senator and invited him to her house to sit in her son Alex’s “empty chair” and to “feel the emptiness and have dinner with us and discuss this.” The senator’s office replied with a form letter. But the senator hand-wrote a second letter to the grieving mother apologizing for her having received a form letter in response to her “heartfelt note.”

Senator Flake wrote:

Dear Ms. Teves,

I wanted to apologize for the fact that you received a form letter from my office in response to your heartfelt note. I regret that you received an impersonal response to such personal words.

I am truly sorry for your deep loss. Your son’s actions were truly heroic.

I read your letter. While we may not agree on every solution, strengthening background checks is something we agree on.

Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

Thank you for your note.

Kind regards,

Jeff Flake


One of the 46 senators to vote against the gun legislation, Flake had ignored his former Arizona colleague, Gabby Giffords’ plea to vote for the compromise bill that would have strengthened background checks. “I said I was sorry,” Flake told The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinahuer. “I didn’t know what else to say. It’s very hard.”

Flake told the Associated Press that he wants Congress to expand background checks for gun purchases but that the legislation he voted against did not accomplish that. He said he also couldn’t vote for the bill because it “would expand background checks far beyond commercial sales to include almost all private transfers–including between friends and neighbors.”

The compromise bill drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey would have applied background checks to online and gun show sales, but in fact it exempted private, person-to-person sales.

msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell said Tuesday night,

“So this freshman Republican hand-writes a letter telling a grieving mother that strengthening background checks is ‘something we agree on.’ And then he walks into the Senate chamber and raises his hand to vote against strengthening background checks–even though he had political cover from the senior Senator from Arizona who was voting for background checks. Freshman Senator Jeff Flake rewrote himself on the spot, and voted against them. He voted against Caren Teves. He voted against the family that he said in his letter “will be in my thoughts and prayers.”


Alex Teves was killed while shielding his girlfriend from bullets in the Aurora movie theater where 12 people were killed and 58 were injured.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the political action committee backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, scheduled eight protests–seven target Republicans and one going after Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who announced Tuesday that he does not seek re-election and will retire.

Baucus was one of four Senate Democrats to cast a “cowardly vote” against the background check bill, said O’Donnell. “Senator Max Baucus of Montana voted no–and everyone assumed he did so to protect himself in his re-election campaign next year, but he announced today that he is not running for re-election.

The compromise gun bill that included the expansion of the gun background check program needed to pass the 60-percent majority rule, but was defeated 54-46.

Flake out: Senator tells grieving mother he supports 'strengthening background checks' - then votes no

Updated