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Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to shield Mueller from Trump

Mitch McConnell tried to close the door on a bipartisan bill to shield Robert Mueller from Trump. Today, some senators pried the door back open.
The Capitol building at dusk.
The Capitol building at dusk.

Early last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to slam the door shut on any legislative effort to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from White House interference. Though the Republican leader said Mueller should be allowed to continue his work, asked about a bipartisan bill to shield the special counsel, McConnell declared, "We'll not be having this on the floor of the Senate."

Despite multiple reports that Donald Trump has already tried to take steps to fire Mueller, McConnell added that he believes new legislation is "not necessary."

Evidently, there are still some senators who disagree.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance legislation designed to make it more difficult for any president to dismiss a special counsel, a signal to President Donald Trump amid Robert Mueller's ongoing Russia probe. [...]The legislation represents a compromise between [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck] Grassley and a bipartisan foursome who had long advocated the measure: Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Christopher Coons, D-Del.; and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

The outcome was by no means a foregone conclusion. As recently as yesterday afternoon, Grassley sought changes to the proposal that, if implemented, likely would've undermined the independence of Mueller's probe. (Among other things Grassley envisioned requiring Mueller to notify the Judiciary Committee "if there is any change is made to the specific nature of scope of the investigation.")

The Iowa Republican backed off those changes overnight, allowing the bill to clear committee today with bipartisan support. The final vote on the panel was 14 to 7.

Even some of the GOP senators who voted against the bill made clear they're against Trump trying to fire Mueller. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said such a move would be "politically suicidal."

So what happens now? That will depend largely on McConnell, though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) this morning urged GOP leaders to bring the bill to the floor "immediately." The New York Democrat added, "Rather than waiting for a constitutional crisis, the full Senate should act now."

Postscript: If you're looking for a refresher on what the bill entails, here's our coverage from a few weeks ago.