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Republicans lose interest in bills to protect Mueller from Trump

GOP lawmakers are convinced Donald Trump wouldn't dare fire Robert Mueller. That's a bizarre assumption.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016.

As recently as August, a bipartisan group of senators were working on legislation intended to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller in case Donald Trump tried to fire him. Now that members of Trump's political operation have been charged by Mueller and his team, perhaps it's time to take those measures more seriously?

Apparently not. GOP senators, including some who've been publicly critical of Trump, argued yesterday that it's simply unfathomable that the president would try to oust the special counsel before the completion of the investigation. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was prepared to co-sponsor one of the bills to protect Mueller a few months ago, suggested yesterday his own bill isn't needed.

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."

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the question of whether Donald J. Trump is "in his right mind" is a subject of considerable debate.

But even if we put that aside, I get the feeling some Republicans on Capitol Hill have lost sight of the fact that Trump has already publicly flirted with the idea of ousting Mueller from his post.

It was just three months ago when the president sat down with the New York Times, which asked, "If Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia -- is that a red line?" Trump replied, "I would say yeah. I would say yes." He added, "I think that's a violation."

Asked specifically, "Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is?" Trump dodged, saying, "I can't answer that question because I don't think it's going to happen."

In other words, senators yesterday acted as if this scenario was simply unthinkable, but the president is already on record speculating about the possibility.

I can appreciate why some lawmakers are prepared to take a we'll-cross-that-bridge-later posture, hoping they can put off action on this issue. But these steps don't happen in a vacuum: Congress can prevent crises by acting proactively. In this case, Trump wouldn't be able to fire Mueller if members approved measures now to prevent that possibility.