×
Power Play
November 15, 2018

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) finally put his foot down. On Wednesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked a motion by Flake and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to force a full Senate vote on a bill protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, newly endangered by President Trump's appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Flake then announced that until the bill gets a floor vote, he will not vote for any of the 32 judicial nominations McConnell hopes to confirm before year's end or vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees awaiting a vote in the Judiciary Committee.

If Flake and the entire Democratic caucus vote no on the judicial nominations — probably McConnell's top priority — Vice President Mike Pence would have to step in to break the 50-50 tie. Flake can single-handedly block all nominees from being voted out of committee, assuming all Democrats vote with him. If Flake is joined by another Republican who supports his bipartisan bill — passed out of committee months ago — to give special counsels an avenue to contest their firing, no judges would be confirmed for the remainder of this Congress. Coons said he and Flake are confident the bill "would get 60 votes if given a vote."

McConnell and other Republicans, including some who helped write the bill, have argued the legislation is unnecessary because Trump won't fire Mueller. Flake wasn't buying that argument. “The president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it,” he said on the Senate floor. "Why? Why do we do this? To protect a man seemingly who is so incurious about what Russia did during the 2016 elections? ... Why do we do that? Do we have no more institutional pride here?”

The legislation, even if passed in the Senate, faces an uncertain future in the House, though senators could insist on including it in must-pass legislation before the end of the year. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads