Senate panel approves bill to protect special counsel

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Thursday to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.

In a 14-7 vote, the panel approved the bipartisan proposal that deeply divided Republicans on the committee. 

With every committee Democrat backing the legislation, only one Republican was needed to secure passage.

In the end, four Republicans voted for the bill: Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOrrin Hatch: Partisanship over Kavanaugh nomination 'dumbass' Kavanaugh tells senators Mueller’s appointment was appropriate: report Senators restart talks to fix family separations MORE (N.C.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhite House staff offered discounts at Trump's NJ golf club: report Graham: DOJ official was 'unethical' in investigating Trump campaign because his wife worked for Fusion GPS Sunday shows preview: Virginia lawmakers talk Charlottesville, anniversary protests MORE (S.C.), Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyArchivist rejects Democrats' demand for Kavanaugh documents Kavanaugh recommended against Clinton indictment in 1998: report Russian meddling on social media happens on both the right and left MORE (Iowa) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSenate GOP campaign arm asking Trump to endorse McSally in Arizona: report Arpaio says he misheard Sacha Baron Cohen questions Election Countdown: Takeaways from too-close-to-call Ohio special election | Trump endorsements cement power but come with risks | GOP leader's race now rated as 'toss-up' | Record numbers of women nominated | Latino candidates get prominent role in 2020 MORE (Ariz.).

Republican Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTop Republicans concerned over impact of potential Trump drug rule The Hill's Morning Report — Trump to GOP: I will carry you Treasury releases proposed rules on major part of Trump tax law MORE (Utah), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeEx-Virginia GOP Senate candidate shares offensive voicemail allegedly left by Charlottesville rally organizer Facebook cracks down on 3D guns Exclusive: Bannon blasts 'con artist' Kochs, 'lame duck' Ryan, 'diminished' Kelly MORE (Utah), John CornynJohn CornynArchivist rejects Democrats' demand for Kavanaugh documents Senate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing Reining in UN’s little known International Telecommunication Union MORE (Texas), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoTougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans On The Money: Trump floats steeper tariffs on China | Senate GOP battles for leverage with House on spending | Trump asked Treasury to look into capital gains tax cut | Senate clears 4B 'minibus' spending measure Obstacles mount for quick action on Russia sanctions MORE (Idaho), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SassePollster: Attitudes toward Trump's farm aid are 'highly wrapped up' in feelings toward president Poll: Majority of Americans support Trump's plan to offer aid to farmers hit by tariffs Hillicon Valley: 'QAnon' conspiracy theory jumps to primetime | Senate Intel broadens look into social media manipulation | Senate rejects push for more election security funds | Reddit reveals hack MORE (Neb.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz challenger O'Rourke launching .27M TV ad buy focusing on 'positive' message Neo-Nazis hope to leverage Alex Jones controversies one year after Charlottesville violence Texas brewery makes 'Beto Beer' for Democratic Senate candidate MORE (Texas) opposed it.

The vote marks the first time Congress has advanced legislation to formally protect Mueller from being fired by President TrumpDonald John TrumpAl Gore: Trump has had 'less of an impact on environment so far than I feared' Trump claims tapes of him saying the 'n-word' don't exist Trump wanted to require staffers to get permission before writing books: report MORE, who has railed against him in public and reportedly talked in private of dismissing him.

The bill, sponsored by Tillis and Graham (R-S.C.) with Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocrats embracing socialism is dangerous for America Kavanaugh recommended against Clinton indictment in 1998: report Kavanaugh once said president would likely have to testify before grand jury if subpoenaed: report MORE (D-N.J.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOn The Money: Senators propose 'crushing' Russia sanctions | Trump calls for food stamp work requirements in farm bill | China tells US to 'chill' on trade | Apple hits trillion in value Let’s honor public service Senate Dem: Talk of revoking security clearances a ‘pure distraction’ MORE (D-Del.), would codify Department of Justice regulations that say only a senior Department of Justice official can fire Mueller or another special counsel.

It would give a special counsel an "expedited review" of their firing. If a court determines that it wasn't for "good cause," the special counsel would be reinstated.

The committee also added new reporting requirements into the bill, including notification when a special counsel is appointed or removed and requiring a report be given to Congress after an investigation wraps up; that report would detail the investigation's findings and prosecution decisions.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) blasted the reporting requirements as “reckless” because it would require a special counsel to hand over the names of individuals whom they decided not to prosecute.

But Democrats praised Grassley for being willing to compromise on his amendment, marking a political 180 from as recently as Wednesday, when Democrats were concerned Grassley’s amendment could sink the bill.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems seize on Kavanaugh emails to question role in terrorism response Trump gives thumbs up to prison sentencing reform bill at pivotal meeting Overnight Defense: Officials make show of force on election security | Dems want probe into Air Force One tours | Pentagon believes Korean War remains 'consistent' with Americans MORE (D-Ill.) called the original amendment a “deal breaker,” while Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinArchivist rejects Democrats' demand for Kavanaugh documents Senate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing Latino legal group slams Kavanaugh MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, warned that she would vote against the bill “in its entirety.”

But the publicly released version of Grassley’s amendment didn’t include a provision that would have required a notification to Congress about changes to the “specific nature or scope” of Mueller’s investigation.

Feinstein praised Grassley on Thursday for making the “necessary compromises.” 

“We have a piece of legislation that I believe will stand the test of time and will also stand the test of scrutiny,” she said.

The legislation now heads to the full Senate, where it faces entrenched opposition from key Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report Republican strategist: Trump is 'driven by ego' Senate GOP campaign arm asking Trump to endorse McSally in Arizona: report MORE (Ky.).

“I'm the one who decides what we take to the floor, that's my responsibility as the majority leader, and we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell told Fox News earlier this month.

The bill doesn't have the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate, and has even less of a chance to pass the more conservative House. It also would be unlikely to win the two-thirds support needed to override a presidential veto.

McConnell and most GOP senators say publicly that they believe Trump will ultimately decide not to fire Mueller, a former FBI director who is widely respected in Washington. 

They also argue the legislation isn't constitutional and, even if passed, would face a challenge in the courts.

“The special counsel must be permitted to complete his investigation. President Trump should not, and I believe will not, end the investigation,” Hatch wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Wednesday. 

But Hatch, underscoring how most Republicans believe it would be a colossal mistake for Trump to fire Mueller, said the special counsel’s removal would “trigger a crisis, possibly even impeachment.” 

Much of the debate during Thursday's committee vote was between Republican senators on the panel.

The Judiciary Committee voted down an amendment from Cornyn, Hatch and Lee that would have gutted the special counsel bill and replaced it with a nonbinding sense of the Senate resolution on allowing Mueller to finish his investigation.

Sasse, Crapo and Kennedy joined Hatch, Lee and Cornyn to support the GOP amendment.

Grassley, Tillis, Graham, Flake and Cruz voted against the amendment.

- Updated at 11:23 a.m.