While Sen. Jeff Flake cannot single-handedly block all votes on judicial nominees with his demand for a law protecting the Russia probe special counsel, he only needs one Republican defector to likely get his way.
Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s pledge not to vote for any more of President Trump’s judicial nominees until the Senate votes on a bill to prevent special counsel Robert S. Mueller III from being fired could complicate Republicans’ hope to confirm dozens of conservative judges before the end of the year, the Washington Post reports. Flake’s warning will likely force Republicans — who hold 51 seats in the Senate — to rely on Vice President Pence to confirm any of the 32 judicial nominees pending before the full Senate. It also means that Republicans will likely have to go around the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Flake is a member and the GOP has only a one-seat majority, to advance any of the 21 nominees waiting for that panel’s endorsement. That also will require Pence’s tie-breaking vote.
Flake issued his threat after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Flake and Democratic Sen. Christopher Coons from holding a vote on the bill that would give any fired special counsel the ability to swiftly challenge their termination before a panel of three federal judges. Most Republicans have argued that the bill is unnecessary because Trump would never dare fire Mueller. Flake challenged that rationale, given Trump’s recent decision to appoint Russia probe critic Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general and give him oversight of the Mueller probe. Flake said he believes Whitaker should recuse himself from the Russia probe, letting deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein reassume authority over it. By himself, Flake cannot completely block more judicial confirmations this year. But he and Coons said they hope to convince other Republicans to join their effort. If one more Republican does, they and the Democrats would be able to prevent Trump from getting any additional judicial nominees confirmed in 2018.