Last week, the president fired the FBI director who was leading an investigation into his campaign. He proceeded to publicly suggest that this decision was motivated by his antipathy for that investigation, in a statement that arguably constituted a confession of obstruction of justice. The president then tried to intimidate his former FBI into silence, by threatening to release secret recordings of their conversations. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who had recused himself from all matters pertaining to the investigation of the Trump campaign (of which he was a member) — began leading the search for a new, more “loyal” head of federal law enforcement.
These developments led Senate Democrats — and roughly 80 percent of the American public — to conclude that the investigation into potential collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian hackers should not be handled by the Trump administration.
But Senate Republicans beg to differ. They appear to believe that the appropriate response to a president (ostensibly) confessing to obstruction of justice is to express vague misgivings — or words of encouragement, depending on one’s taste — and then turn back to the pressing question of how to strip poor people of their health care with minimal political blowback.
Now, Democrats hope to turn “the rule of law” into a kind of wedge issue. The party is developing a list of demands that are as reasonable as they are unacceptable to the president. The idea being: Either congressional Republicans will be forced into a messy feud with Trump, or Senate Democrats will secure a nonideological excuse to ramp up obstruction of the GOP’s legislative agenda.
Last week, leading progressive groups like MoveOn and Credo began pushing for Democrats to sabotage the basic functioning of the Senate until a special prosecutor is appointed. As Vox’s Jeff Stein reported:
Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate operates under what are called “unanimous consent” agreements. If Senate Democrats withhold their consent, the routine functioning of the body — from committee hearings to routine floor votes — could grind to an immediate halt … “There’s no reason Donald Trump should be able to confirm nominees or pass laws while smashing the rule of law to pieces,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn.org. “This is an in case of emergency, break the glass moment.”
It’s unclear how procedurally radical Senate Democrats are willing to get. But Chuck Schumer’s caucus plans to put a significant price on their friendly cooperation. Here’s a piece of this week’s to-do list for congressional Democrats, according to Axios:
1. Establish a litmus test for Republicans who care about the integrity of the Russia investigation: to appoint a special prosecutor.
2. Call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from deciding Comey’s replacement, given the new FBI director will be overseeing the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the election.
3. Extract a full explanation from Rod Rosenstein about his role in Trump’s firing of Comey. The deputy attorney general will brief senators this week and they’ll have a chance to grill him.
4. Urge Republicans to support Democrats’ calls for Comey to testify before a congressional committee.
Democrats would also like to hear the “tapes” that Trump warned Comey about last week, according to Politico:
Democrats are already whispering about trying to slow legislation unless the president hands over tapes, or certifies he doesn’t have them. Democrats can force procedural votes on this topic, which could prove to be tough for Republicans. Who would vote against legislation to get to the bottom of whether the president is surreptitiously taping conversations?
As of this writing, one plausible answer to that question appears to be: most congressional Republicans.
Which goes a ways toward explaining Quinnipiac’s findings from late last week.