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Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller

Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller
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Legislation protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE has sparked deep divisions among Republicans on Capitol Hill. 

The bills, which limit Trump’s ability to fire Mueller, have pitted GOP leaders against key members of their own caucus.

Protecting the special counsel through legislation has gained slow but growing momentum among Republicans, as Trump has publicly lambasted and reportedly privately mused about firing Mueller, who is investigating potential collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign. 

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GOP leadership has tried to quash the proposals. They argue there is no need to bring up the bills because they don’t believe Trump will ultimately fire Mueller despite reports that he’s moved to in the past before ultimately backing down. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump faces test of power with early endorsements Lobbying world Boehner throws support behind Republican who backed Trump impeachment MORE (R-Wis.), noting he’s had “plenty of conversations” about the matter, told NBC News that he didn’t think legislation “was necessary.” 

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Senate GOP opens door to earmarks McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----' MORE (R-Ky.), marking his strongest language to date, pledged that a bipartisan Senate bill would never make it to the Senate floor. 

“That’s not necessary. There’s no indication that Mueller’s going to be fired. I don’t think the president’s going to do that, and just as a practical matter even if we passed it, why would he sign it,” McConnell told Fox News. 

When Fox News’s Neil Cavuto noted that some Republicans “fear” that Trump will ax Mueller, the GOP leader fired back: "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.” 

But that’s done little to stop supporters of legislation insulating Mueller from trying to push their respective proposals forward, marking a high-profile disagreement between rank-and-file members, GOP leadership and Trump. 

Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder Dent22 retired GOP members of Congress call for Trump's impeachment Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 The magnificent moderation of Susan Collins MORE (R-Pa.), who is retiring next month, is the latest House member to introduce legislation protecting Mueller. His bill would require that Mueller receive advance notice of his firing, and give him a path to challenging his firing.

Several House Democrats have also introduced bills to protect Mueller, but Dent’s legislation marked the first time any House Republican besides Rep. Walter JonesWalter JonesHillary Clinton brings up 'Freedom Fries' to mock 'cancel culture' Georgia officials open inquiry into Trump efforts to overturn election results Supreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising MORE (R-N.C.) had signed on to a bill. Meanwhile, a bipartisan Senate bill is expected to come up for a vote in the Judiciary Committee next week, despite McConnell’s opposition to moving the legislation.  

“Obviously the views of the majority leader are important to consider, but they do not govern what happens here in the Judiciary Committee. ... If consideration on the floor was a standard for approving a bill, we wouldn't be moving any bills out of this committee,” GOP Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyNumber of migrants detained at southern border reaches 15-year high: reports Grassley, Cornyn push for Senate border hearing The Hill's Morning Report - GOP pounces on Biden's infrastructure plan MORE (Iowa), the chairman of the committee, said during a business meeting. 

Grassley chided the media for trying to pit him against McConnell or Trump, who would be unlikely to sign such a bill, arguing he was only trying to do his job as Judiciary Committee chairman. 

“I don’t care to be put in the middle of anything. I just plan on doing the work that this committee ought to do,” he said. 

The legislation from Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally Top Democrat calling for expansion of child care support When it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, what's a moderate Democrat to do? MORE (D-N.J.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings GOP senator recovering from surgery for prostate cancer Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured MORE (R-N.C.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMSNBC's Joy Reid pans Manchin, Sinema as the 'no progress caucus' Overnight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike MORE (R-S.C.) and Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsCEOs say proposed Biden tax hike would hurt competitiveness Biden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Buttigieg: Biden will have 'open mind' toward changes to infrastructure bill MORE (D-Del.) would codify that only a senior Justice Department official who has been confirmed by the Senate could fire Mueller. 

It would also give Mueller or any other special counsel an expedited review of their firing. If a court ultimately found they weren’t fired for “good cause” they would be reinstated.

The boost of momentum comes as Trump has raged against Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinProtect the police or the First Amendment? Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Comey argues Trump shouldn't be prosecuted after leaving Oval Office MORE following the FBI’s raid of the offices and hotel room of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The action stemmed in part from a referral from Mueller’s team, and Rosenstein reportedly approved the move. 

But Trump downplayed speculation that he would fire Mueller or Rosenstein while at his oceanfront Mar-a-Lago hotel in Florida. 

"They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they're still here," he told reporters. 

Republicans have worked overtime to warn Trump against firing Mueller, a former FBI director who is deeply respected in Washington, or Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel. 

Now, with at least Tillis and Graham expected to vote with Democrats to support the Senate’s legislation next week, it is poised to pass out of the Judiciary Committee. 

What, if anything, comes after that for the bill is unclear. Republicans have shown little interest in challenging Trump, who remains popular with the party’s base, months before a midterm election. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOn The Money: Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan | Democrats debate tax hikes on wealthy | Biden, Congress target semiconductor shortage Hillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Lawmakers, industry call on Biden to fund semiconductor production amid shortage MORE (R-Texas), McConnell’s No. 2, said a floor vote would be a “futile gesture” because the president ultimately wouldn’t sign the legislation.

“It’s not constitutional in my view to limit the president’s authority,” he added. “I don’t think he will do it, and I think it would be mistake if he did.” 

But supporters of the bill say they will try to gather support for the legislation. Any bill would need 60 votes, including the support of at least 11 Republicans, to clear the chamber. 

Tillis said his colleagues should “dispense with the drama” and focus on the long-term merits of the bill as they try to get additional co-sponsors. 

“It's something that can lie in the Senate chamber. Facts may lead to passage or not,” he said.

He added separately that despite McConnell’s statements “the reality is it’s on us to get the votes to get it passed.” 

Winning over GOP votes in the face of McConnell’s opposition could prove to be a herculean task. The GOP leader is widely respected within the caucus and controls what does — or doesn’t — come to the Senate. 

Asked about the “McConnell problem,” Coons quipped: “What McConnell problem? McConnell problem?” 

“The more the president does things that are unwise and abrupt,” he said, “the more I think that may persuade Majority Leader McConnell of the importance of preventive action.”