Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake’s bid to pass legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller was blocked on Wednesday by Republican colleague Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
Flake teamed up with fellow Judiciary Committee members, Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey, in calling for unanimous consent for a floor vote on their legislation S.2644, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, the Washington Examiner reported.
In a speech from the Senate floor on Wednesday, Flake argued that the legislation is necessary in light of President Donald Trump’s “demeaning” and “denigrating” behavior toward Mueller. The Arizonan cited Trump’s repeated tweets about a “phony witch hunt” staffed by “angry Democrats.”
Flake also pointed to the forced resignation of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the reassignment of oversight of the Mueller probe from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as a cause for alarm.
Lee rose in opposition to the legislation, thereby blocking it from reaching a full vote.
The conservative stalwart argued the separation of powers doctrine established by the Constitution is applicable, meaning Congress should not try to usurp decisions clearly in the purview of the executive branch.
“Prosecutorial authority of the United States belongs in the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice answers to the President of the United States. It’s principal officers consistent of people appointed by the president serving at the pleasure of the president after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate,” Lee said.
He further contended that if Congress were to pass legislation shielding the special counsel from executive oversight, it would in effect be creating a “fourth branch of government.”
Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Flake’s move to have his legislation receive a full vote.
“The president is not going to fire Bob Mueller, nor do I think he should, nor do I think he should not be allowed to finish,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday, according to the Examiner.
He added, “We have a lot of things to do to finish up this year without taking votes on things that are completely irrelevant to outcomes.”
During a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Coons claimed that McConnell is protecting Trump by blocking the legislation.
The senator expressed confidence S.2644 would receive 60 votes if it came to the floor, pointing out that it passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 14 to 7 in April.
“I think, frankly, at the end of the day, Leader McConnell has gotten reassurances from the president that he won’t act against Mueller, but those assurances are undermined every single day when President Trump both tweets untrue criticisms of Robert Mueller and his investigation and does other things that are unexpected or unconventional or unjustified,” Coons said.
In retaliation for his legislation not being considered on Wednesday, Flake joined with Democrats in voting against judicial nominee Thomas Farr to serve on the federal bench for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Fox News reported.
Vice President Mike Pence stepped in to break the 50-50 tie in the procedural vote, allowing a confirmation vote to be tentatively scheduled for next week.
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