Answer: A Whole Lot. And A Whole Lot Of Nothing.
A small act of defiance (or is it really just common sense?) from two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from the Carolinas.
South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis hammering out a bill along with Democrats protecting Mueller from being fired without “good cause”. And Chair Chuck Grassley says he’ll let that bill come to a vote in the Committee, probably next week. “They got together, so I feel an obligation to keep my word and move forward”, Grassley says.
So with minimum two Republican votes, it’ll almost certainly pass out of the Committee, and then never make its way to the floor of the Senate.
That’s because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to argue there’s no need for such legislation, telling Fox News Trump is not likely to try to fire Mueller. So “we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate”.
At the same time, the White House said this week it’s decided Trump has the authority to fire Mueller directly, and does not have to direct the Justice Department to do it. Did that thought just pop into their heads out of nowhere, apropos of nothing? We haven’t heard anything more out of Trump’s people on this for the last couple of days, most likely because he’s been off in Florida, summiting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe.
How about over in the House then? Same story. House Speaker Paul Ryan even going so far as to say “I received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration“.
As we’ve said before, we do sort of understand that position: why get in the doghouse with Trump over something he may never actually do? (Although that’s less applicable to Ryan now that he’s leaving Congress anyway. But he’s embroiled in a bitter fight to hang on to his leadership position until the end of his term.) Still, why spend political capital supporting a bill that has only a slim chance of passing the full Senate, almost no chance of passing in the House, and even less of a chance of Trump signing it, so it’d have to pass with a veto-proof majority? Because it’s the right thing to do?
The danger in non-action by Republicans in the Senate and House of course, is if Trump does go ahead and fire Mueller, it’ll probably be too late for Congress to do anything at that point. Another immediate option would be for Congressional leaders to come out and say they’ll just hire Mueller on if Trump fires him, but they’re not doing that either.
So that may explain why Senator Tillis, who’s generally a Trump supporter, is pushing ahead. According to this profile from Politico, to his political peril. (He’s not up for re-election this year, but is in 2020). Tillis says, sensibly: “The same people who would criticize me for filing this bill would be absolutely angry if I wasn’t pounding the table for this bill if we were dealing with Hillary Clinton….So spare me your righteous indignation”.
Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows, also from North Carolina warns: “I can tell you conservatives in my district are not happy about it”. And Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, also on the Judiciary Committee saying: “It’s not good politics in the end….It says you don’t trust the President.” Um, exactly…
Lawfareblog provides an exhaustive analysis of pretty much everything going on anywhere in Congress related to protecting the Special Counsel. And if you missed it, you can also take a glance at our earlier story: “If Trump Fires Mueller, What Would Congress Do?”
We believe if Trump does do something, he much more likely to start with firing Mueller’s boss: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, then attempt to replace him with somebody who will “protect him”, rather than go after Mueller himself. Trump last week called Rosenstein even more “conflicted” than Mueller in a Tweet.