Senate GOP discussing vote on Mueller protection bill
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are measuring support for legislation protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE and could bring the bill up for a vote, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynPoll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week How the border deal came together MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Tuesday.

Cornyn, in separate interviews with reporters and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, said Republicans could give the legislation a vote as they try to defuse a fight with Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Ariz.) that is holding up dozens of judicial nominees.

"We're whipping that to see where people are. I think the leader needs that information to decide how to manage all the competing demands on our time," Cornyn said when asked about discussions within the Republican caucus about the legislation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Flake has pledged to vote against all of President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE's judicial nominees until he gets a vote on the legislation. With Republicans holding an 11-10 majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Flake's tactics effectively block them from moving nominees to the full Senate unless they can get help from Democrats.

Cornyn said Republicans were willing to hold a vote on the legislation "if that's what it's going to take" to move nominees. But, asked if it was a realistic possibility, he said leadership was still measuring support to get "an idea of what the outcome would be." 

 
Republicans have put a premium on confirming Trump's judicial picks, which they view as one of their best shots at having a long-term impact on the direction of the country.
 
In addition to Flake, several Republican senators, including Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration MORE (Maine), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration GOP senator dedicates heart photo to wife from Senate floor for Valentine's Day MORE (N.C.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech The Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war Graham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview MORE (S.C.) and Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyHigh stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech MORE (Iowa), support giving the legislation a vote on the Senate floor.
 
Republicans have been privately mulling having a vote related to the legislation after Flake warned earlier this month that he would oppose all judicial nominees until the Mueller bill is brought up on the Senate floor.
 
In addition to effectively blocking nominees at the committee level, it also forces Republicans, who currently have a 51-49 majority, to lean on Vice President Pence to break a tie if no Democrats support a nominee.
 
The strain caused by Flake's tactics were on full display this week with Thomas Farr, a district nominee, currently short of the bare minimum of 50 votes needed to let Pence break a tie. GOP Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Senate passes bill to make lynching a federal crime Partnerships paving the way to sustain and support Historically Black Colleges and Universities MORE (S.C.) hasn't yet said how he will vote.
 
Cornyn told Hewitt that Republicans were discussing a vote on the legislation and there was a “possibility” the Senate could give it a vote.
 
“We are checking with our members now to see exactly where, you know, how it would come out. It may be that he does get that opportunity,” Cornyn said, adding that he does not support it and believes the legislation has constitutional issues.
 
The Judiciary Committee passed legislation that would protect Mueller, or any other special counsel, in the event he is fired, but the bill has stalled amid opposition from GOP leadership.
 
Flake recently tried to schedule a vote on the legislation but was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Green New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire MORE (R-Ky.), who has argued the bill isn't necessary because the Mueller investigation isn't in danger. Proponents of the bill argue President Trump has made potential moves toward shutting down or stifling the investigation, most recently with his appointment of an attorney general who has criticized Mueller's probe into Russian election interference.
 
Flake and Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTrump got in Dem’s face over abortion at private meeting: report Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union MORE (D-Del.) are expected to go to the Senate floor again on Wednesday to try to schedule a vote. Coons told reporters on Tuesday that he is "confident" if they can bring the bill up on the floor they'll have the 60 votes needed for it to pass.
 
The bill would codify Justice Department regulations that say only a senior DOJ 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.

Republican discussions about giving the legislation a vote come as Democrats call for it to be added to a must-pass spending bill if Republicans don't bring the bill up on its own.

GOP leaders have dismissed adding it to the funding bill, arguing it would spark a veto threat from Trump.

But Democrats maintain that Trump's decision to fire Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight The Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war McCabe book: Sessions once said FBI was better off when it 'only hired Irishmen' MORE as attorney general and replace him with Matthew Whitaker, Sessions's chief of staff, is the latest sign that the president wants to interfere in the Mueller investigation. 

“If the Majority Leader refuses to give it the vote it deserves, Democrats will push to include it on the must-pass spending bill that we must approve,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNational emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration Mandatory E-Verify: The other border wall MORE (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.

McConnell appeared cool to giving the legislation a vote and said he would "probably" block Flake and Coons's second request to bring the bill to the floor.

"This is a solution in search of a problem. ...We have a lot of things to do to try to finish up this year without taking votes on things that are completely irrelevant to outcomes," McConnell said.

Updated: 3:13 p.m.