Opinion writer

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday afternoon:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday thwarted a bipartisan effort to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s job, saying he will not hold a floor vote on the legislation even if it is approved next week in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

McConnell said the bill is unnecessary because President Donald Trump will not fire Mueller.

“We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell said on Fox News.

His comments came amid widespread opposition to the bill among members of his caucus, with several GOP senators saying the bill is unconstitutional. Others said it’s simply not good politics to try and tell Trump what to do, likening the legislation to “poking the bear.”

Let’s cut through all this: Republicans are petrified of provoking Trump (“the bear”), whom they treat as their supervisor and not as an equal branch of government. The notion that Congress should not take out an insurance policy to head off a potential constitutional crisis when the president has repeatedly considered firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein defies logic. By speaking up in such fashion, McConnell is effectively tempting Trump to fire one or both of them. That will set off a firestorm and bring calls for the president’s impeachment.

“There is evidently no limit on the complicity [McConnell] is willing to shoulder,” argued Norman Eisen, a former White House ethics counsel during the Obama administration. “Even as bipartisan support for the legislation is emerging in both houses of Congress — or perhaps because it is emerging — he stands in the way.” He added: “It is a betrayal of the rule of law for McConnell to take this position when the president has reportedly tried twice to fire Mueller, and discussed it frequently, and is now agitated over the Michael Cohen developments. McConnell will be fully as responsible as Trump if the special counsel is fired.”

At critical points during this saga, McConnell has put party over country, and fidelity to the executive branch over the concerns of an equal legislative branch. Remember, according to multiple news reports, McConnell is the one who, before the 2016 election, wanted to water down a bipartisan warning to the country about Russian interference. It was McConnell, together with Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who refused to set up a select committee or an independent commission to address possible Russian collusion. It was McConnell who pushed through the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, despite ample evidence that he had not been truthful with the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding his contacts with Russians. His refusal to consider legislation that might head off a crisis is remarkably reckless.

“As Senate Majority Leader, McConnell has extraordinary power to control the nation’s legislative agenda — and that power carries great responsibility,” said constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe. “By standing in the way of serious legislative efforts to protect the special counsel’s inquiry into presidential obstruction of justice and cooperation with Russia to win the election, McConnell has totally failed to discharge that responsibility.”

There is no one — with the possible exceptions of Ryan and House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — who has done more to embolden Trump. Seeing no opposition, Trump has continued his crusade to intimidate and bully the Justice Department and the FBI. As Trump has trashed one democratic norm after another, McConnell has remained silent.

Put aside the Russia investigation for a moment. McConnell hasn’t said boo about Trump’s foreign emoluments, his grotesque conflicts of interest, or the nepotism and self-enrichment that are endemic to his administration. If a Democrat was in the White House, McConnell would be leading the inquests into wrongdoing and cheering for impeachment.

McConnell’s seat is not on the ballot in November, but eight other Republican ones are. If McConnell loses a net of two seats, he will be in the minority and no longer able to run interference for Trump. It’s difficult to come up with a better reason to dump the GOP majority than its abject refusal to live up to its oath, act as a check on the executive branch, and take the necessary steps to protect the country and Constitution from Trump. Looking ahead, is there any doubt that McConnell — no matter what Mueller finds, no matter how robust are articles of impeachment that might be sent from the House — would once again ride to Trump’s rescue and shield him from accountability?

Aside from his failure to live up to his constitutional responsibilities, the majority leader is taking an awfully big political risk. “It’s very nice that Sen. McConnell is confident President Trump will not interfere with the work of the special counsel, but that does not help me sleep at night in view of the President’s constant threats to fire Mueller,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, told me. “It is outrageous that Sen. McConnell and other Republican leaders won’t allow a vote on a bill to protect the investigation — a bicameral, bipartisan bill that continues to gain support on both sides of the aisle.”

Well, if Trump does fire Mueller or Rosenstein, the country will rightly blame McConnell and the GOP-controlled Senate. It would be quite a political legacy.