The bipartisan cosponsors of two bills to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from meddling by President Trump told reporters Monday night that they have received zero indication that the Senate’s GOP leaders will allow a vote on the legislation. And most rank-and-file Republicans, including one cosponsor of the legislation, said they saw no need to pass it.
“I don’t feel an urgent need to pass that law until you show me that Mr. Mueller is in jeopardy,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a cosponsor of the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act. “Anybody in his right mind at the White House wouldn’t think about replacing him.” Asked if he believed Trump is “in his right mind,” Graham responded affirmatively.
With only a few exceptions, Graham’s Republican colleagues were similarly unmoved by Monday’s news that Mueller has indicted two former Trump campaign officials and cut a plea deal with a third, responding to reporters’ questions with a collective shrug.
“I don’t know that they’re necessary,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told TPM about the special counsel protection bills, adding that he hadn’t yet read them.
Other Republicans TPM talked to tried to change the subject.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), a former assistant secretary of state, said he “hasn’t read those bills yet” when asked about the bipartisan legislation, saying he was focused on tax reform, ANWR and the economy.
“You guys are in some ways a lot more focused on this than the work,” he complained. “And when I go home and do town halls the number of questions I get on that is low, sometimes zero.”
Even Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who recently let loose a stream of withering criticism of Trump, said he couldn’t fathom a need for the legislation, expressing disbelief that Trump would dare even think about firing Mueller.
“I just cannot possibly imagine an administration taking a step like that. It would would, it would be…” he began, before trailing off.
When TPM pointed out Trump had already fired James Comey, another senior official investigating him, he paused.
“He did, but he probably wishes he didn’t. I just can’t imagine that happening,” he repeated.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Trump’s other fiercest GOP critic in the Senate, said the big news “heightened curiosity” about the bipartisan bills, but won’t ensure their passage.
“I hope we don’t have to but obviously if we need to we should,” he said of passing the legislation.
Both Senate bills to protect Mueller, however, have been stuck in committee since the were introduced over the summer.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-CT) said he’s received no commitment from leadership about a bringing his bill to the floor. Asked Monday if he has heard from any more Republican members interested in becoming co-sponsors he deadpanned: “Not yet.”
Even relentless optimist Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was cautious in talking about the bills’ chances.
“There’s a lot of progress being made in terms of the four of us talking and there’s some good outcomes from the hearing that was held by Judiciary, so I think we have some good input, a lot of interest, but we’ll see,” he told TPM.
Booker said he and the three other cosponsors hadn’t sat down together yet, but had “informal conversations” about combining the bills.
Other Democrats responded to the major escalation in Mueller’s investigation by sounding the alarm that the White House may well act to put the kibosh on it.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who called the charges a “sobering, shattering moment in American history,” said lawmakers need to act now, not wait until there’s a full constitutional crisis.
“Congress should assure that Bob Mueller has no worries about his job,” he told reporters Monday. “It is our responsibility to ensure his independence, which should be sacrosanct. As a signal to the White House, we should pass this measure.”
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.