Senate GOP discussing vote on Mueller protection bill
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are measuring support for legislation protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE and could bring the bill up for a vote, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAbbott bows to Trump pressure on Texas election audit Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight 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 FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots 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.

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Flake has pledged to vote against all of President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response 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 CollinsDo progressives prefer Trump to compromise? Looking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid MORE (Maine), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime How to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) MORE (N.C.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report State Department spokesperson tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers fret over wild week of deadlines MORE (S.C.) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley announces reelection bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B 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 ScottBooker: End of police reform negotiations a 'frustrating experience' Sunday shows - All eyes on spending votes Tim Scott says police reform talks collapsed with Dems over funding 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 McConnellFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push On The Money — GOP blocks spending bill to kick off chaotic week in congress Overnight Health Care — Presented by Alrtia — Booster shots get bipartisan rollout 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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsManchin raises red flag on carbon tax Dems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict 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 SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program 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 SchumerChuck SchumerObama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Congress shows signs of movement on stalled Biden agenda Schumer gets shoutout, standing ovation from crowd at Tony Awards 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.