Congressional Republicans returned Tuesday from a two-week recess to President Trump fuming about a raid on his personal attorney’s office and new reports that he will move to terminate the Russia investigation by firing either Special Counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
A small handful of lawmakers are attempting to revive sidelined legislation that would protect Mueller from Trump. But just hours before reports came to light that Trump sought to fire Mueller in December, most GOP senators were shrugging the matter off entirely, insisting the President’s angry words were just words.
Democrats, though they don’t have the power to call hearings or to bring bills to floor, are attempting to create a sense of urgency on Capitol Hill and spur their GOP colleagues to action, warning that firing either Mueller or Rosenstein would be an impeachable offense.
Despite Trump’s screed Monday evening and Tuesday morning calling the FBI raid an “attack on our country” and a “total witch hunt,” and despite the White House press secretary declaring from the podium Tuesday that Trump does have the power to fire the special counsel, most Republican senators told reporters Tuesday that no legislation is needed to shield Mueller from Trump’s wrath, and confirmed to TPM that the issue did not even come up at their weekly party luncheon.
“I haven’t seen clear indication yet that we need to pass something to keep him from being removed, because I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Pressed on what Congress should do if it did happen, McConnell curtly repeated several times that he does not want to answer “a hypothetical.”
Many senior GOP lawmakers were equally dismissive.
Exiting his party’s Tuesday luncheon, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had the following exchange with reporters asking about the possibility Trump will attempt to end the investigation he has repeatedly called a “witch hunt.”
HATCH: He’s not going to do that.
REPORTERS: How do you know that?
HATCH: He’s just not going to do it.
REPORTERS: How can you be so confident?
HATCH: I’m quite sure he won’t do it … unless there’s something really bad that happens.
REPORTERS: Why not pass a bill to protect him as a prophylactic measure?
HATCH: I’m not for that. I don’t think we should do that.
REPORTERS: Why not?
HATCH: Because it’s up to the President, and I don’t think he’s going to do that.
REPORTERS: But he’s openly contemplated it.
HATCH: I don’t think he’s going to.
REPORTERS: Has he told you that?
Most rank-and-file Republicans agreed no imminent action is needed.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) assured reporters that Trump was merely “tweeting out some frustrations.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said the firing would be “a colossal mistake” and an “extraordinary crisis,” but added: “I just don’t think he’s going to do it.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) went further than most, warning that “there would be repercussions from the Congressional body — serious repercussions.” But asked what those repercussions would be, Corker shrugged. “I don’t know. Use your imagination.”
Some Republicans, meanwhile, seemed to be egging the President on, voicing the opinion that not only can Trump shut down the Mueller probe but he’d be within reason to do so.
“It’s time to end the investigation,” Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) told reporters. “This looks like an investigation that’s spiraling out of control to me.”
House conservatives, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) were even more explicit.
Rep. Matt Gaetz on Fox News a few minutes ago: "I think that there is a sufficient basis to fire Rosenstein in particular and, likely, the attorney general for not doing his job." pic.twitter.com/Yqgxt38tqX
— Matt Berman (@Mr_Berman) April 10, 2018
Democrats, meanwhile, are bracing themselves for what Republicans claim will never happen. But without the power to bring the special counsel protection bills back to life, they are resorting to begging their GOP colleagues to take the situation seriously.
“I beseech my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand up and say that what President Trump is doing is wrong,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor. “Make it clear that firing Mueller or interfering in his investigation crosses a red line and is a threat to our constitutional order. Let us also be clear that the president does not have the authority to order the special counsel’s firing without cause. And finally, let’s take steps to protect the special counsel from political interference. We have several bipartisan bills designed to do just that. Majority Leader McConnell should bring them to the floor and let us debate them.”
Despite many Republicans waving away questions about the issue, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) insisted that Trump’s recent comments will move Congress to act.
“Coming back, it’s a very different atmosphere than it was before recess,” she said. “It’s much more serious.”
Asked if firing Mueller or Rosenstein would be an impeachable offense, Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded: “It may be, because this is to avoid an investigation of himself.”
“It would be the worst thing he could possibly do,” she added.