Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is threatening Senate Republicans with the possibility of not supporting President Donald Trump's judicial nominees unless they pass a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.
"We have been told that the bill that Sen. Coons and I will move to bring up shortly is not necessary, as there have been no indications that the independence of Mr. Mueller's investigation is in jeopardy. That may have been an arguable position before last week. But it is not arguable anymore," Flake said on Wednesday, according to CNN. He later added, "The president now has this investigation in his sights, and we all know it."
In a news conference after he delivered his floor speech, Flake said that "the president has said that he's not going to move on the special counsel. But that's not enough. And perhaps that's what gives comfort to the majority leader . . . But it doesn't give comfort to me.
Flake's decision came after a bill to protect Mueller from reprisals that he co-sponsored with a Democratic colleague, Sen. Chris Coons of Connecticut, was stymied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell before it could be brought to the Senate floor for a vote. Flake and Coons, along with other colleagues, including Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, have expressed concern that the president's firing of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions means he plans to meddle with Mueller's probe into the Trump-Russia scandal.
Flake is in a position of strength when it comes to making good on his threat. Republicans currently have an 11-10 majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where there are 21 pending judicial nominees and 32 that are awaiting a floor vote. If Flake refuses to vote with his party on those nominees, the Republican Party's ability to fill America's courts with conservative judges could be jeopardized.
He has also been one of the president's most outspoken Republican critics in the Senate, with his most notable occasion of defiance occurring in a speech he delivered in January. During that address, Flake focused on the president's attacks on news outlets that he perceives to be critical of him. The senator argued that, in doing so, the president is jeopardizing a bastion of American democracy.
"An American president who cannot take criticism, who must constantly deflect and distort and distract, who must find someone else to blame is charting a very dangerous path," Flake said in that speech. He also called out the president for claiming that the Trump-Russia scandal is a hoax, arguing that "to be very clear, to call the Russia matter a 'hoax' – as the president has many times – is a falsehood."
That address also saw Flake claim that the president implores the language of dictators. "Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language," the senator said at the time.