WASHINGTON (CN) – Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on Wednesday vowed to block President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees until the Senate takes a vote on a bill meant to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Flake made the announcement on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., objected to a request to hold a vote on a bill which would make it so Mueller can only be removed for good cause and allow him to challenge his firing in court.
“This is a matter of grave national importance,” Flake said “This is not a moment for our national leadership to be weak or irresolute or compromised in any way.”
Flake launched a similar protest against Trump’s judicial nominees earlier this year, when he said he would not support any nominee until the Senate took a vote opposing Trump’s tariff policy. Flake’s personal blockade held up judges in the Senate Judiciary Committee for weeks as the closely divided panel was unable to advance nominees to the floor favorably without Flake’s support.
The bill to protect Mueller has taken on renewed life after Trump last week removed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions’ replacement, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, has expressed skepticism of Mueller’s probe into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.
Whitaker’s assumption of the role has built speculation that Mueller’s days as special counsel could be coming to an end, leading lawmakers to press again for legislation that has been stalled since clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee in April.
With the Senate split 51-49 between Republicans and Democrats, Flake’s objection means Vice President Mike Pence would need to break ties on any votes on the more controversial nominees who currently await confirmation on the Senate floor, assuming all Democrats oppose them.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the nominations of 15 judicial nominees on Thursday morning, including five who are up for seats on federal appeals courts.