Bill to protect Mueller blocked in Senate

Legislation protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE from being fired was blocked in the Senate on Wednesday.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (R-Ariz.) asked for consent to bring the legislation, which has stalled after being passed in the Judiciary Committee in April, to the Senate floor for a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem candidates sell policy as smart politics Overnight Defense: Trump ends sanctions waivers for buying Iranian oil | At least four Americans killed in Sri Lanka attacks | Sanders pushes for Yemen veto override vote McConnell: 'Time to move on' from Trump impeachment talk MORE (R-Ky.) blocked his request.

Under the Senate's rules, a senator can come to the Senate floor and ask for consent to get a vote or pass a bill. Any one senator can block their request.

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McConnell didn't explain his move from the floor but it came hours after he told reporters that he believed that Mueller should be able to finish his investigation and that he didn't believe the special counsel was in danger of being fired. 

"There's been no indication ... that Mueller investigation will not be allowed to finish and it should be allowed to finish. We know how the president feels about the Mueller investigation but he's never said he wants to shut it down," McConnell told reporters during a press conference. 

Flake, speaking after McConnell's objection, knocked President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE's rhetoric on the Mueller probe, which is investigating Russia's election interference and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

"With the firing of the attorney general ... the president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it," Flake said from the Senate floor.

He added that Trump had accused Mueller of a witch hunt "without basis or fact."

"How such an investigation can be the cause of controversy is beyond me. ...[And] presidents do not get to determine what gets investigated and what and who does not," Flake said.

Democrats, and some Republicans, have called for the legislation to be passed in the wake of Trump ousting Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump poised to roll back transgender health protections Trump claims Mueller didn't speak to those 'closest' to him And the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin MORE last week and replacing him with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Sessions's former chief of staff. 

Flake indicated on Wednesday that he believed Whitaker should recuse himself and should not have been put in the role to begin with. 

"Yes. Yes, well I think he shouldn't be in that position at all. To have oversight over the investigation, that's what seems unconstitutional," Flake said. 

The Senate 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.

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.

 
"This would be an easy step to take. It is a bipartisan bill that has been ready for floor action for months," Coons said at a press conference with Flake after the floor drama. "[But] it's clear that there's an unwillingness to act." 
 
Coons as well as Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell pledges to be 'Grim Reaper' for progressive policies Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 MORE (R-N.C.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHarris adds another to her list of endorsements in South Carolina The Hill's Morning Report - Dem candidates sell policy as smart politics 2020 Dems rebuke Trump on Iran, say they'd put US back in nuclear deal MORE (D-N.J.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamIf you don't think illegal immigrants are voting for president, think again Graham challenges Dems to walk the walk on impeachment Hillicon 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 MORE (R-S.C.) crafted the special counsel legislation.
 
Flake warned on Wednesday that he and Coons will come back to the Senate floor to again request that it get a vote and that he will oppose any judicial nominations until it does. 
 
"I can't think of values held more dear than the independence of our judicial system and an electoral system free of malign influence, either foreign or domestic. When I think of the things that we hold most dear, those things are at the top of the list. It is our sworn oath to keep it that way," Flake said from the Senate floor. 
 
This story was updated at 5:17 p.m.