Looks like Jeff Flake is all alone on his "protect Mueller or we'll block the judges" move

Nice guy. Well intentioned. Bad politician.

Why pull this stunt if he didn’t know upfront that Collins, Murkowski, and whoever else were prepared to join him in roadblocking judges until the “protect Mueller” bill is voted on?

To put that another way: If he was prepared to wage a one-man campaign on Mueller’s behalf by opposing all judicial confirmations, why didn’t he do it a year ago rather than start in the lame-duck session? He’s retiring. If worse came to worst, McConnell could just wait six weeks if need be and proceed in January with a Flake-less Senate.

Two potential Republican allies for Flake, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said Thursday that they support the special counsel legislation, but they did not indicate they’d join Flake in using judges as leverage to force such a vote.

“I believe strongly the bill should be brought to the floor in light of the President’s firing of Jeff Sessions, his installation of Matt Whitaker, and also his tweet this morning, all of which are disturbing to me,” Collins said. “I’m not sure I see a link between holding up judges and getting a vote on this bill. There may be other ways. I’ve talked to others of my colleagues who are also concerned, and I hope we can prevail on the majority leader to just bring the bill to the floor.”…

“I want to find out what the path forward is for this right now,” Murkowski said. “I have said I’m supportive of that (legislation). How we do that is the question I think needs to be answered right now. I’ll talk to Sen. Flake about what he’s doing. But we haven’t had much of a conversation yet.”

If he doesn’t have Collins, he probably doesn’t have Murkowski. If he doesn’t have Collins and Murkowski, he almost certainly doesn’t have Sasse. Which means he has nothing in terms of defeating any nominations in a floor vote. His sole leverage would be his vote on the Judiciary Committee, which is divided 11 to 10. Flake could singlehandedly tilt the Committee against each nominee, but that wouldn’t necessarily stop McConnell from holding a floor vote on — and passing — each one. Normally the majority leader would think twice before ignoring a committee’s recommendation but in this case McConnell could justify doing so by noting that the swing vote is retiring and his objections aren’t to the nominees on the merits. As such, all Flake’s vote would do is send a bunch of qualified nominees to the bench with a stain on their record that they were opposed by the Judiciary Committee for reasons having nothing to do with their own qualifications. I doubt Flake would even follow through if McConnell called his bluff. He might just vote “present” on the Committee and let the nomination proceed with the group deadlocked.

Mild-mannered Mike Lee is annoyed by the whole stunt, and with the merits of Flake’s bill:

Lee rebuked Flake for the threat, telling host Laura Ingraham, “I don’t like the tactic and I really, really dislike the underlying legislation that he’s trying to push.”

“I think it’s unnecessary and I think it’s unconstitutional to take a prosecutorial position like this one and put it beyond the authority of the president of the United States,” Lee warned…

Lee lamented the sluggish rate at which the Senate has been confirming Trump’s judicial nominees. “At the rate that we’re going, it would take us about 10 years to fill all these positions and get them confirmed.”

Given the constitutional objections and annoyance with Flake’s pressure tactics, it sounds like the most McConnell might offer him is to hold an empty-gesture vote on Mueller’s behalf. That is, said John Cornyn to CNN, if Flake will back off then maybe McConnell will allow a non-binding “sense of the Senate” resolution that simply says that Trump shouldn’t fire Mueller. Would Flake go for that, knowing that it wouldn’t tie Trump’s hands at all?

Probably, right? A guy who decided to drive a hard bargain in his final six weeks on the job, when his power has all but evaporated, isn’t all that invested in hard bargains.

Here he is last night in his element, dumping on Trump for an audience of media people at the 2018 Radio & Television Corespondents’ Dinner. By the way, Lindsey Graham met with acting AG Matt Whitaker today and reportedly came away confident that he won’t interfere with the Mueller probe. POTUS is definitely counting on the opposite, though, or else Whitaker wouldn’t have this job. What will Whitaker do if and when the fit hits the shan on Russiagate? We may find out sooner than you think.

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David Strom 9:21 PM on February 02, 2023