A bipartisan Senate proposal to prevent Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired directly by President Donald Trump has stalled with an announcement this week that the measure will not reach the floor for debate.
Amid Trump’s increasingly harsh denouncement of intelligence officials and reports that he is considering firing FBI Deputy Director Rod Rosentsein, who oversees the Mueller investigation, supporters of the bill believe it is now the job of Congress to protect the special counsel.
Others in the Republican majority, however, see the attempt as an overreach, a distraction or possibly unconstitutional.
According to The Associated Press, voices in the latter camp convinced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stymie efforts that would give Congress greater control over the Justice Department’s independent investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” he said.
He went on to contend that such a bill would be superfluous given his own belief that Trump will not seek to fire Mueller.
A group of four senators, two Republicans and two Democrats, combined elements of existing bills to protect Mueller into one bill they presented to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
As currently written, the bill would have provided additional protections for any special counsel, specifically granting the ability to seek a judicial review within 10 days of being fired.
Senators finalized the language and presented it last week, days after the FBI executed a search warrant on the home, office and hotel room of Trump’s personal attorney.
The raid on Michael Cohen triggered fiercer backlash from the president than previous developments, leading to renewed concern among some lawmakers that he would attempt to dismantle investigations related to his administration.
Though Grassley approved the resulting bill for a committee vote, McConnell’s announcement stopped the legislation in its tracks even if that preliminary vote is successful.
Within the judicial committee, early indicators showed that three of 11 Republicans were prepared to cast a no vote. Another five — including Grassley — have expressed concerns.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said many of his constituents believe legislators are “picking an unnecessary fight with the president.”
He described bills like this as “about as popular as cholera with the leader in the Senate and about as popular as malaria in the House.”
Among the larger Senate body, numerous Republicans have also dismissed such efforts for a variety of reasons.
Even some who would oppose an effort by Trump to fire Mueller do not believe lawmakers should force his hand.
“I think having Congress tell him what we believe he should do in this case is simply poking the bear, and I’d just prefer not to do that,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota.
Whether Trump makes a move to fire Mueller or not, though, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is among those who believe the added safeguards make sense no matter the president.
“I don’t think he’s going to fire Mueller, but I think institutionally it would be nice to have some protections,” he said in support of the bill he co-sponsored.
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