Legislation protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate 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 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.
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 RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' 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 McConnellOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo On The Money — Biden stresses calm amid omicron fears 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 DentTuesday election results raise questions about Biden agenda The Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? 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 GrassleyGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Iowa Democrat drops bid to challenge Grassley after death of nephew Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case 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 BookerPoll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (D-N.J.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOvernight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' Republicans press Milley over perceived progressive military agenda Gun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA MORE (R-N.C.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback MORE (R-S.C.) and Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSenators: US allies concerned Senate won't pass annual defense bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay Can America prevent a global warming cold war? 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 RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week 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 CornynMental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Cornyn says he 'would be surprised' if GOP tries to unseat Sinema in 2024 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.”