Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016.
Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

McConnell rejects bipartisan effort to protect Mueller from Trump

Updated

The more Donald Trump raises the prospect of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the greater the need for congressional action to prevent a crisis. Fortunately for those who support the law and the judicial system, there are several pieces that are already coming together.

A bipartisan proposal to shield Mueller from presidential interference is already on the table in the Senate; it’s poised for attention in the Senate Judiciary Committee next week; and there’s a bipartisan House bill picking up co-sponsors in the lower chamber, too.

Everything appeared to be on track, right up until yesterday afternoon.

The effort to pass legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s job as special counsel appeared to hit a dead end Tuesday as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not allow the bill to come to the floor for a full Senate vote.

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility as majority leader. We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview on Fox News.

McConnell said that he believed there’s “no indication that Mueller’s going to be fired” – the GOP leader might have missed the president’s public comments last week – making the bipartisan bill “not necessary.”

In fairness to McConnell, it’s worth emphasizing that he hasn’t called for Mueller’s ouster. On the contrary, McConnell has said, more than once, that the special counsel should be allowed to continue his work. The Republican leader, with varying degrees of subtlety, has even warned Trump not to interfere with the ongoing investigation.

But McConnell isn’t prepared to do anything to ensure Mueller is shielded from the White House. Even if there’s bipartisan support to pass legislation, McConnell has decided to prevent the Senate from exercising its will.

In the eyes of the Republican leader, the smart move at this point is to simply hope that Donald Trump acts responsibly – as if the president has a track record of demonstrating restraint while under siege.

What about the reports that Trump has already taken steps – twice – to fire Mueller? McConnell apparently chooses to overlook those reports as fleeting presidential tantrums.

And who knows, maybe McConnell’s approach will work out. Perhaps Trump won’t follow through on his rhetoric; the special counsel’s investigation will continue; and the bill to shield Mueller will prove unnecessary. Maybe there’s nothing to worry about and everyone involved will simply play by the rules.

The point, however, is that the bipartisan legislation is intended as insurance, guaranteeing the proper outcome. McConnell is willing to place a risky bet on the judicious reasoning of an erratic amateur president. I wonder what he’ll say if the gamble fails to pay off.