The Senate could vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller in order to clear away a potential logjam on President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, the No. 2 Senate Republican said on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said several times on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show that the chamber could vote on a bill that would codify some protections for special counsel investigations, a key demand of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has said he will oppose all judicial nominees until he gets his vote.
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Without Flake, the 51-member GOP has no margin for error on some nominees; a vote this week to install Thomas Farr on a District Court in North Carolina is in danger because of opposition from Democrats and undecided moderates who are concerned he is hostile to voting rights.
“There is a possibility we will have a vote on the so-called Mueller protection bill. But I think there really is some serious constitutional issues on that, and I certainly don’t support it. I don’t think the president’s going to fire Bob Mueller,” Cornyn said. “We are checking with our members now to see exactly … how it would come out. It may be that he does get that opportunity.”
Cornyn told reporters Tuesday morning that Republicans are willing to hold a vote “if that’s what it’s going to take” to move more nominees.
“We are whipping the bill to see where people are, to give us an idea of what the outcome would be,” Cornyn said. “That’s the leaders call. … it‘s entirely up to Sen. McConnell.”
Senate Republicans could also measure support for the bill in the caucus and show Flake the bill can’t pass in a bid to appease him without holding a vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider more judges on Thursday.
Democrats have joined Flake’s call, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reiterated his hopes that the bill would be included in a must-pass spending bill next week. Republican leaders have shrugged off those demands, which would force a confrontation with the president and complicate a shutdown fight that’s already raging over Trump’s border wall.
Though Trump continues to rail against Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the bill is not necessary and has shown little interest in holding a vote on it.
The legislation would ensure that special counsels can be fired for making mistakes on the job or other “good cause” and allows judicial review of firings for other reasons. It also would only allow Senate-confirmed officials to fire the special counsel; acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker — a longtime critic of the Mueller probe — has not been confirmed.
A standalone vote could offer a way around Flake’s judicial blockade, which threatens to delay some nominees in the narrowly divided Senate Judiciary Committee.
For now, only a handful of Republicans support the Mueller protection bill, and few are pushing as hard as Flake.
GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine all back the bill and several other Republicans have said they could support it. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who opposed the bill in committee, said supporters “have every right” to have a vote on the measure.
Still, the measure currently appears short of the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
“If we can have a relatively expedited up or down vote, and my preference is that it fail, but at least he will have had his shot. And my hope is that he then agree to let us confirm the judges that are on the calendar,” Cornyn said. “They’ve been through a long, arduous process, many of them putting their practice and their families on hold while they’re waiting for confirmation. So it’s unfair to simply tell them to start over again next year.”
The Farr nomination is among the trickiest votes left this year for Republicans, with Democrats hoping to pick off one more Republican to bring him down.
Republicans did pick up a key supporter on Tuesday: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will support Farr, according to a source familiar with his plans, suggesting that the nominee is not in as much trouble as a previous nominee — Ryan Bounds, who was withdrawn after Rubio and other Republicans turned on him in July.
Published at Tue, 27 Nov 2018 16:06:09 +0000