Why Won’t the Senate Protect Mueller?

Jonathan Bernstein
Why Won’t the Senate Protect Mueller?

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Here’s a puzzler: Why won’t Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just allow a vote on a measure to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation?Avoiding the vote is starting to get costly. Senator Jeff Flake, a member of the judiciary committee, is determined to oppose all judicial nominations until the bill protecting special counsels gets a vote. His pledge has already helped to sink one potential judge – and is now delaying several more, with the committee canceling a meeting for a second time because it doesn’t have the votes without Flake. So what’s going on? On the surface, this certainly appears to contradict my suggestion that President Donald Trump is losing his clout with congressional Republicans. After all, they’re the ones who have made confirming conservative judges a major priority. So are they putting Trump’s interests ahead of their own?Perhaps. But it’s probably a bit more complicated. For one thing, we’re talking about a symbolic vote here, for all practical purposes. Even if the Senate voted to protect Mueller – who’s investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election – the current House wouldn’t go along with it and the process would have to start all over again in the new Congress. That might make it easier to just let the vote happen. But it also means that senators could wind up having to vote twice. They probably don’t want to do that whether they’re for the bill or against it. And they especially won’t want to be put on record now in case circumstances have changed by next year. Another reason to avoid the bill is that the pressure to confirm judges has relaxed quite a bit now that Senate Republicans will be moving from their current slim majority to a more comfortable 53-to-47 edge next year – and will have fewer demands on their time given the Democratic majority in the House. There won’t be a big tax cut or health-care bill that needs floor time in 2019 or 2020. So perhaps McConnell just doesn’t see much need to give in, especially since Flake, who didn’t seek re-election this year, will be gone in a few weeks.It could also just be that McConnell doesn’t like giving Democrats any victories. After all, blocking tough votes on behalf of the caucus is what party leaders in Congress do. Harry Reid turned it into an art form when he was majority leader, even when it reduced the overall capacity of the Senate and of individual senators. And McConnell is following where Reid went.So my guess is that unless Flake extends his action to must-pass legislation and finds more allies, McConnell will keep resisting – waiting for the new year, a larger Republican majority and no Jeff Flake. 1. Matthew Green and Douglas Harris on Nancy Pelosi’s continuing fight to be speaker of the House.2. Greg Koger has a reform agenda for the Senate. Very interesting.3. Sheri Berman at the Monkey Cage on the “yellow vest” protests.4. Adam Serwer on why Democrats wouldn’t be interested in joke candidates.5. Harry Enten on election fraud in North Carolina.6. Jamelle Bouie on Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina.7. And my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Francis Wilkinson talks with Andrew Delbanco about his new book on fugitive slaves.

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To contact the author of this story: Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Timothy Lavin at tlavin1@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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