The Senate Judiciary Committee has canceled hearings on a list of President Donald Trump's judicial nominees after outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) pledged to vote against any Republican judicial nominee so long as the GOP refuses to pass a bill protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller from any detrimental White House actions.
"The panel was scheduled to advance six Circuit Court nominees, 15 District Court nominees and several bipartisan bills on Thursday to prepare them for possible floor action over the next month," Politico reported, noting that the nominees are all to key seats, and all could be easily pushed through both committee and the full Senate with full Republican support.
But Flake says he will not vote "yes" on a single nominee unless a "bipartisan" bill, which requires Mueller be fired by a senior administration official rather than by presidential tweet and would give Mueller an "expedited review" of his filing if he requested it, is brought to the floor.
On Wednesday, Flake and a Democratic colleague, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), tried to convince Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the matter to the floor. When McConnell refused, Flake voted "no" on judge Thomas Farr's nomination to the Federal district court.
Now the GOP has been forced to cancel a vote on at least 21 lifetime appointments, even though they control the Senate. Flake is currently the 51st vote of a 51-49 majority, which gives him the power to stall any close contests. In the case of Farr, Republicans had to call in Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 tie.
The Republican Senate leadership says they aren't giving up on getting the nominees through before Congress takes up a budget fight next week, and then recesses for the holidays. According to The Hill, McConnell and others are "sounding out" members of the GOP in the Senate to see if they would even be able to bring Flake's bill to a vote, just to keep him happy and get him out of the way.
"Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, said Wednesday evening that GOP leaders have whipped the bill, after telling reporters earlier this week that leadership is trying to figure out what sort of support the bill has and what thee 'outcome' of a vote on the legislation might be," The Hill reported Thursday morning.
The GOP seems to fear that bringing the bill to the floor will upend an already packed legislative calendar, and draw some senators into President Donald Trump's cross-hairs, prolonging an argument about "saving" Mueller, even as the Special Counsel is reportedly in the final days of his investigation.
Flake feels the bill is imminently necessary, particularly in light of how Trump's attacks on Mueller have ramped up in recent days. On Thursday, news that Trump's former top adviser and personal attorney Michael Cohen had struck a deal with Mueller on charges that he lied under oath to Congress seemed only to substantiate Flake's fears.
Flake will be leaving the Senate in January, freeing the GOP there from his antics — at least temporarily. He's expected to challenge President Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020 (though he's winning few fans on his way out).