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Senate leader appears to kill special counsel protection bill’s chances

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on April 17, 2018. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Senate’s top Republican appeared Tuesday to quash new momentum behind a bill giving special counsels such as Robert S. Mueller III legal recourse if they are fired, telling Fox News that he would refuse to put it to a floor vote.

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That is my responsibility as the majority leader. And we’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

McConnell’s statement comes barely a week after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said the panel would take up and vote on the measure during a business meeting April 26. For months, Grassley had refused to weigh in on legislation to protect a special counsel from being fired without cause, insisting that the committee would consider only one such bill, if it took up any at all.

The bipartisan pairs of senators behind two similar bills struck that long-awaited compromise last week, with a measure that would give an ousted special counsel 10 days to appeal his or her dismissal to a panel of three federal judges, who would ultimately decide whether the firing was legitimate. During those 10 days, the government would be forbidden from destroying records or making any other staff changes to the team around the special counsel.

Senate Judiciary panel to vote on special counsel bill this month

The bills were originally inspired by hints last summer that President Trump might dismiss Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replace him with someone who might force Mueller to end his probe of alleged ties between Trump’s inner circle and Russian officials. In the months since Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), filed their bills, the GOP has roundly rejected the idea that Trump would actually seek to have Mueller fired, and raised constitutional concerns about whether a president’s hiring and firing decisions can be subjected to judicial review.

Grassley was among those raising constitutional concerns. Nevertheless, when the bipartisan quartet of senators behind the measures struck a compromise deal last week, Grassley was quick to promise their bill time in the Judiciary Committee — and even proposed an amendment of his own to give Congress an additional backup option to better review an order to fire a special counsel, even if the courts strike down the specific judicial-review procedure outlined in the measure.

McConnell’s reaction was quite different — in the Fox interview, he questioned why Congress would expend effort on trying to get a bill passed that the president was unlikely to sign.

“There’s no indication that Mueller’s going to be fired . . . and just as a practical matter, even if we passed it, why would he sign it?” McConnell said, adding: “This is a piece of legislation that’s not necessary, in my judgment.”

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