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Senate Majority Leader Says Law To Protect Special Counsel Mueller Isn't Necessary


Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went on Fox News and poured cold water all over an emerging bipartisan plan to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.


MITCH MCCONNELL: I'm the one who decides what we take to the floor. That's my responsibility as the majority leader. We'll not be having this on the floor of the Senate.

CHANG: McConnell says the bill isn't necessary because Trump says he won't fire Mueller. NPR's Kelsey Snell reports that some Senate Republicans want to protect the investigation anyway.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: It's an unusual moment of defiance when a senator insists on pursuing a bill that party leaders don't support, but that's exactly what North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis is doing. He's forging ahead with a bill that he says would make it harder for President Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

THOM TILLIS: We'll have a markup and have a vote in committee.

SNELL: White House officials say Trump has the power to fire Mueller, and they haven't ruled it out. Tillis says his bill would make it harder if Trump follows through. And Tillis says he won't give up on trying to win McConnell's support.

TILLIS: It's - you know, it's something that can lie in the Senate chamber, and, you know, it may lead to passage or not.

SNELL: The chief worry among supporters of the bill is that Trump has crossed Republicans on a number of issues, like the recent tariffs on China. That's why Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal says Republicans who hope they can convince Trump not to fire Mueller aren't facing reality.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: If he's not listening to his own lawyers, I don't think he's going to listen to a bunch of U.S. senators.

SNELL: Critics say there's no point in going through the arduous process of voting on a bill that the House won't pass and the president would veto. But Arizona Senator Jeff Flake says a vote would prove to Trump that there are senators, including Republicans, willing to publicly back the investigation.

JEFF FLAKE: If the goal - and I think it should be - is to convince the president not to take this action - I mean, ultimately this would have to be signed by the president, which is very unlikely, so it's more of a message in bill.

SNELL: Flake says the message is what matters.

FLAKE: I think the message needs to be that we take this very seriously.

SNELL: Forcing a vote could also create an impossible choice for Republicans running for re-election against strong Democratic challengers. Either they vote against the president and commit what would be considered a cardinal sin by many of Trump's fervent base, or they vote against protecting Mueller. That could anger moderates worried Republicans won't stand up to Trump. Either way, Democrats like Senator Dick Durbin want Republicans on the record.

DICK DURBIN: It isn't a question of whether Trump might one day veto it. It's whether they believe in the integrity of the special counsel or they believe any person, including the president, should be above criminal investigation.

SNELL: There are plenty of Republicans who say they agree with that sentiment, but they don't want to cast the vote. Others, including McConnell and Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, simply believe Trump won't fire Mueller.

ORRIN HATCH: It's hard for me to, you know, just hypothetically think in this direction because I just don't think it's going to happen.

SNELL: The majority of Senate Republicans agree that they don't need to act. They just need to trust the president. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
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