Back in April, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee united behind legislation intended to safeguard Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring the bill to the floor, arguing that doing so would be a waste of time — because, in his estimation, there was no reason to believe that Donald Trump would ever fire the special counsel.
Last week, Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign — after publicly complaining (for months) about Sessions’s failure to protect him from Mueller’s investigation into his campaign. Then, in a constitutionally dubious move, Trump replaced Sessions with a man best known for disparaging Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” — and speculating that a new attorney general could sabotage his probe by denying it funding — in commentary for CNN.
So, on Wednesday, with the midterms in the rearview mirror — and a potential crisis of the rule of law rapidly approaching — Republican senator Jeff Flake and his Democratic colleague Chris Coons tried, once again, to persuade McConnell to allow a vote on the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act. “He’s said nobody’s been fired and the special counsel is not in danger. That is not the case now,” Flake reasoned on Monday evening.
But, in a shocking development, the Senate Majority Leader refused to provide the unanimous consent required to advance the bill Wednesday afternoon — a move that raises the harrowing possibility that Mitch McConnell is not always honest about the motivations behind his procedural machinations.
In the past, Flake has responded to McConnell’s betrayals with nothing more threatening that a solemn headshake, or sanctimonious speech. But on Wednesday, the lame-duck senator actually vowed to use the powers of his office to obstruct McConnell’s goals until his bill received a vote.
Alas, no other Republican senators echoed this threat (and even if they did, it would only modestly delay the confirmation of the impending judges until a larger, Flake-less GOP Senate majority is sworn in next year). Flake’s gesture might force Mike Pence to make a bunch of inconvenient trips to the Senate floor this fall in order to break tie votes on Trump’s judicial appointees. But it (almost certainly) won’t accomplish anything else.