TEMPE — Sen. Jeff Flake and former Sen. Jon Kyl lamented the state of politics in Washington during a Wednesday night university talk that barely touched on Flake's ongoing conflict with President Donald Trump.
The Republicans told a crowd at Arizona State University's Barrett Honors College that the polarized politics of Washington make it increasingly difficult to get anything done.
Both men said the state of media, including talk television news shows and the ease of blasting an opponent on Twitter, has led to a lack of bipartisanship and no motivation to work with the other party.
"The problem is: The people in this room could sit down and agree and avoid a government shutdown," Flake said. "Unfortunately the media environment right now rewards extremes. There's just no reward for governing right now, and I hope that comes back."
Flake barely touched on his ongoing feud with President Donald Trump, although that's an undercurrent wherever the state's junior senator has spoken for the past nine months. Flake has roundly criticized the president since last summer and is often in Trump's Twitter crosshairs.
Instead, he earned a big laugh after Kyl said he never had been threatened by a president during his 26 years representing Arizona in Congress.
"I wish I could say I hadn't been threatened by the White House," Flake said
Kyl, who retired in 2013, put a lot of blame on the media for picking fights that create disharmony. The Senate, he said, can't operate as a one-party system and the tone needs to change.
"In the Senate it takes 60 votes to do almost anything," he said.
Both men said working behind the scenes with Democrats on issues they have in common is critical, even those they might disagree with on some issues. They said members of Congress need to realize they can't be partisan all the time because there will come a time they need the other party's support.
"The worst enemy today, always, is the one you need tomorrow," Kyl said. "So don't be a jerk."
"Jon's right - you can't afford to always be on the other side of anybody because the Congress and the president have to work together," Flake said, adding the president into the mix. "He sometimes forgets that - but we do have to work together,"
Flake has recently been hinting at a possible 2020 challenge to Trump, even after his opposition to him hurt his re-election chances so badly he decided not to run for another term this year.
He has repeatedly attacked Trump for his policies, uncivil language and tweets and urged fellow Republicans not to blindly follow the president. Last summer, he slammed him in a book that helped torpedo his re-election hopes, but he remains a growing national voice and appears set on maintaining it through the remainder of his term and beyond.