Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller

Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller
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Legislation protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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 RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday 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 McConnellFormer Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Dem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring 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 DentThe Hill's Morning Report - Government is funded, but for how long? Ex-GOP lawmaker says his party is having a 'Monty Python' moment on shutdown Former GOP lawmaker: Republicans know shutdown is ‘a fight they cannot win’ 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 Beaman JonesNorth Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race House pays tribute to Walter Jones GOP leader presses Trump to agree to border deal 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy 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 Anthony BookerResurfaced Buttigieg yearbook named him 'most likely to be president' Man arrested for threatening Dems, citing Omar comments Buttigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration MORE (D-N.J.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisPro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Abrams: Schumer has been 'relentless but thoughtful' about Senate bid MORE (R-N.C.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars DOJ: Dem subpoena for Mueller report is 'premature and unnecessary' Dems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions MORE (R-S.C.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain 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 Jay RosensteinImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump Holder: Any 'competent' prosecutor could win obstruction case against Trump 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 Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks 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.”