Flake to ask again for vote on Mueller protection bill next week

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 (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that he is planning to go back to the Senate floor next week to ask for a vote on legislation protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, after being blocked twice this month.

"We have a bill that's passed the committee with bipartisan support. There have been suggestions that I should accept a sense of the Senate, that sends the wrong message to the president. This is the message that needs to be sent to the president—passage of this bill," Flake said.

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He added that passing the legislation would show President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE that "the Senate won't have his back if he fires Mueller or if he tries to interfere in that investigation."

Flake's plan to go back to the Senate floor to ask for consent to schedule a vote on the legislation comes after his request was blocked, for a second time this month, on Wednesday by Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Push for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 New act can help us grapple with portion of exploding national debt MORE (R-Utah), who argued the bill was unconstitutional.

Senate GOP leadership have been searching for a way to defuse the fight over the special counsel legislation, which is complicating their ability to confirm President Trump’s judicial nominees.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill on Wednesday evening that they have whipped the legislation but hadn't figured out a way to end the stalemate, noting that senators within the Republican caucus have objections to the Mueller protection legislation.

“I think we haven’t really figured out how to deal with that,” Cornyn said.

With Republicans holding a narrow majority, Flake's pledge to vote against any judicial nominees until he gets a vote has placed a strain on Republicans ability to confirm judges, which is a top priority for Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats The national emergency will haunt Republicans come election season Trump: McConnell should keep Senate in session until nominees are approved MORE (R-Ky.).

Vice President Pence had to break two ties on two different judicial nominations this week after Flake sided with every Democratic senator in opposing them on procedural hurdles.

And Sen. 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), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, cancelled a business meeting scheduled for Thursday where nearly two dozen nominees on the agenda for a vote because they failed to get Flake to back down.

Flake said GOP leaders were "hoping to resolve" the stalemate on judges but the only solution, in his view, was a vote on the Mueller bill on the Senate floor.

"We need to pass the bill. Whether it passes the House or not I'm not in control of that, but we need to pass it out of the Senate," he said, adding separately that "I think it's important enough, particularly after the firing of the attorney general, to use the leverage I have."

Republican leadership could wait out Flake, who is retiring at the end of the year. Kicking the nominees until next year would force the White House to renominate them in January, an untimely but not fatal setback.

Flake said he hoped that they could get agreement that would allow the Republican majority to move additional judges but his "priority" is getting a vote on the special counsel bill.

"There are a number of judges, one of whom is from Arizona who is non-controversial, there are a number of these that have bipartisan support, I hope that we can move them through. But the priority has to be this bill to protect the special counsel," he said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has 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 department official could 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.