As President Trump raged, fumed, and rage-fumed a day after his personal lawyer’s home and office were raided — an indication that Trump might be in more legal jeopardy than previously thought — a group of Democrats huddled together to discuss what to do if he finally fires Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Republican senators’ party line, meanwhile, amounted to a familiar refrain of the Trump era: They’re concerned, but not enough to do anything about it.
Sure, multiple GOP senators issued dire warnings about what would happen if Trump pulls the trigger. But even the most outwardly concerned remain pretty unperturbed about a looming constitutional crisis. Even as Mueller blows past the “red line” President Trump set up in his mind as an unbreachable barrier, even as President Trump informed reporters on Monday that “many people” have told him to fire Mueller, even as Sarah Huckabee Sanders proclaimed on Tuesday that Trump has the legal authority to fire the special counsel directly (he probably doesn’t) — despite all this, most members of the GOP don’t seem bothered enough to advance and support existing legislation to protect him. In fact, many seem strangely confident that the president has no intention of dispatching Mueller at all. Why? Well … they just don’t, okay?
Just witness these blithe dismissals:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “My view is that Mueller should be allowed to finish his job. I haven’t seen an indication yet we need to pass something to keep him from being removed because I don’t think that’s going to happen.” (Apparently the plan is to pass legislation between when whoever Trump gets to carry out his command utters the words “You’re and “fired.”)
Joni Ernst: “No, because I don’t think the president’s going to do it — and do you think the president would sign that legislation?” (That’s the spirit, senator! Don’t even try!)
Bob Corker: “I would sign onto legislation that protected him, but I just don’t see a lot of momentum around it. I think we’d be better off with (the president) knowing that it’d be a huge problem if he did something than unsuccessfully passing legislation.” (Yes, Trump is famously concerned about provoking disapproval from Establishment Republicans.)
Lindsey Graham: “I’ve talked to Trump. I think he understands the consequences,” Graham said. “I think it’d be the end of his presidency, for the political chaos.” (Trump was probably daydreaming about the 2016 electoral-college map as you were speaking to him.)
Susan Collins: “If the president were to fire the deputy attorney general, that would be an extraordinary crisis and a real problem. And I just don’t think he’s going to do it.” (Rod Rosenstein can sleep easy now.)
Graham’s assessment was echoed by Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who said on Tuesday that it would be “suicide” for Trump to fire Mueller, but didn’t propose doing anything to prevent that outcome. As the Washington Post reports, Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, “has refused to consider a pair of bills released last year to protect the special counsel before they were merged into one.” That bill, co-sponsored by Republican senator Thom Tillis, would institute a ten-day delay before anyone from the Justice Department could fire a special counsel.
On Tuesday, Tillis pressed the Senate to vote on his bill, but did not exactly sound urgent about it. “I want to separate me continuing to have the dialogue and get to a bill from, like, ‘It’s gotta be passed by midnight tomorrow, or all is lost.’ I don’t buy that.”
Graham and Grassley seem to think that just because an action would carry obviously explosive consequences, Trump would shy away from executing it. But that supposition is contradicted by his business history and by his natural impulsiveness — perhaps his defining characteristic — which often wins out over rationality. After all, firing James Comey wasn’t a smart idea, either.
As ever, Republicans describing Trump’s behavior sound like they’re describing someone very different from the president we all witness bullying and blustering his away across our screens every day.
But in this case, let’s really hope they know something we don’t.