Flake stands firm on sending a ‘message to the White House’ on Mueller

Outgoing GOP 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 (Ariz.) stands firm in blocking 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 nominations until Senate leaders allow a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian election hacking.

"The message that needs to be sent to the White House is that we do not have the president's back if he fires the special counsel,” Flake told reporters Thursday.

“There are a number of judges that we should be approving. There are number of them that are not controversial, that are being held up unfortunately - but this has to be priority,” the Judiciary Committee member said.

The retiring Arizona senator couldn’t say if GOP leadership would allow for a vote on the measure but for his part, Flake is "still encouraging the Majority Leader to bring this to a vote. We need to protect the special counsel."

Without Flake’s vote to move judicial nominations to the Senate floor, Judiciary Committee Chairman 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 (R-Iowa) was forced to cancel a meeting set for Thursday morning in which nearly a dozen Trump nominees were set to be sent to the full Senate.

Flake, who has refused to approve the president’s judicial picks until the chamber debates and votes on a bipartisan measure to protect Mueller’s investigation, said “you have to take a stand.”

He explained “the urgency” of a vote on his bill “changed” when Trump fired Attorney General 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 and appointed Sessions’ former Chief of Staff Matt WhitakerMatthew G WhitakerEx-federal prosecutor: 'Thank God' Whitaker is gone, Barr will bring 'integrity' back to DOJ GOP pollster says Dems are relitigating 2016 election with investigations of Trump Former senior FBI official calls Whitaker hearing ‘disgraceful’ MORE to the position of acting attorney general.

Before returning to the Justice Department in the fall of 2017, Whitaker criticized the Mueller investigation and suggested methods by which to end it.

Flake said for somebody to have "oversight over the Mueller investigation that had already expressed hostility toward the Mueller investigation - I don't know how anybody can be okay with that.”

“To move on as if, you know, 'nothing’s changed,' and 'nobody's being fired,’ you know 'nothing to see here' – that's just not the case,” Flake added.

— Molly K. Hooper