Will Congress preemptively protect special counsel Robert Mueller from President Donald Trump?
Don’t count on it.
As the president has upped his attacks against the Russia investigation in recent weeks, there have been growing calls from Democrats and even some Republicans to pass a bipartisan piece of legislation that would make it more difficult to fire any special counsel, now and in the future.
The bill would delay any firing of a special counsel for 10 days while giving him or her the opportunity to appeal the termination to a panel of three federal judges. Such legislation would “ensure that special counsels — present or future — have the independence they need to conduct fair and impartial investigations,” Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said in a statement last week.
But the bill is going nowhere fast.
The Republican-led House of Representatives has signaled they are extremely unlikely to take up any such legislation. If it did pass, Trump would be likely to veto it, meaning that Congress would need a two-thirds bipartisan majority to override him. And even if Congress overrode the veto, some constitutional scholars have said that taking away from executive power to fire people is unconstitutional, meaning that the bill would likely be tied up in the courts.
And it’s unlikely the bill will even make it out of the Senate anyway. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell announced this week on Fox News: “We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate," which is his prerogative as Majority Leader.
"I don't think the president's going to [fire Mueller], and just as a practical matter, even if we passed [the bill], why would he sign it?" he said.
Republicans point to Trump’s comments Wednesday as evidence that Mueller won’t be fired. "They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they're still here,” Trump said of Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the DOJ official presiding over the investigation. “We want to get the investigations over with, done with, behind us."
Still, Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate are forging ahead anyway despite the barriers that lie ahead.
The Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said Thursday that he intended to hold a committee vote on the bill as soon as next week, despite McConnell’s comments. "The views of the Majority Leader are important to consider, but they do not govern what happens here on the Judiciary Committee," Grassley said.
"If consideration on the floor was the standard for reporting bills, then we wouldn’t do half the legislation we normally do."
Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 18, 2018. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)