by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., planned to confirm dozens of President Trump’s judges by the close of the 115th Congress in December. But the Judicial Express has hit a major roadblock.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had to cancel plans to clear a slate of 25 nominees because one panel member, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., won’t vote for them without a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by Trump.
While there is no direct relationship between the Mueller probe and the slate of nominees, Flake has yoked the two together.
Flake, who is retiring, has evolved into Trump’s biggest GOP congressional foe, chastising the president in floor speeches and on Twitter about his conduct and rhetoric, particularly in response to the Russia investigation, which Trump has labeled a witch hunt.
Flake has made it his mission to compel a vote on the Mueller protection legislation before he departs at year’s end. For the second time this month, Sens. Flake and co-sponsor Chris Coons, D-Del., attempted to bring up the Mueller protection bill on the Senate floor and for the second time, McConnell blocked it.
In response, Flake has pledged to withhold his support of any of Trump’s judicial nominees both on the floor and from his perch in the Judiciary Committee, where Republicans hold a narrow 11-10 majority. Without his backing, the panel cannot favorably report any of the pending nominees to the Senate floor this year. The list includes 22 judicial picks and three executive branch nominees.