A bipartisan group of senators tried for a second time Wednesday to force a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from President Donald Trump and were once again denied by their colleagues.
Sen. Jeff Flake — a Republican from Arizona who championed the bill alongside Democrat Sens. Chris Coons and Cory Booker — promised from the floor that there will be more attempts made before his term ends in January.
“We’ll continue to do so until this vital investigation is completed,” Flake said.
The day before Flakes’ second attempt to force a vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told assembled reporters that he would “probably” block any efforts to protect Mueller from Trump. It wasn't breaking news — McConnell already blocked Flake’s first attempt earlier in November, and most of their colleagues have stayed deliberately silent on the matter.
So, in an effort to dodge a block by McConnell, Flake called Wednesday for a vote of "unanimous consent," prompting a sharp rebuke from Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah.
But in his objection, Lee cited a dissent authored by former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a 1988 Supreme Court case upholding the now-expired Independent Counsel Act. Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, responded by noting that Scalia’s minority ruling is not precedent.
No vote was taken.
The simmering Congressional tensions began to boil after the midterm elections, when Trump fired then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointed Matt Whitaker in his place. The move caused anxiety in part because it places the Mueller investigation squarely within the purview of Whitaker, who has publicly criticized the probe.
After Sessions’ resignation, VICE News asked every sitting Republican senator if they would support legislation to protect Mueller from Trump. A few expressed support; most did not respond at all. But of the Republicans who have spoken out, most seem hesitant to support Flake.
That group includes Sen. Lindsey Graham, who once said there'd be “holy hell” to pay if Trump fired Sessions, and voted to advance the same bill out of committee last year, is now one of them.
“Things have changed,” Graham told Fox News.
Cover image: WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) attends a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill November 15, 2018 in Washington, DC. Flake has recently promised to vote against new federal judges nominated by U.S. President Donald Trump unless the U.S. Senate protects the special investigation being conducted by Robert Mueller's team of investigators. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)