Robert Mueller must be protected or nominations for federal judgeships will remain stalled, Senator Jeff Flake promised on Nov. 14. And Flake has held true to his promise for a second time. Because of Flake’s demand, the Senate Judiciary Committee is poised to cancel a meeting on advancing nominations for 22 judges to the full Senate, according to a report by CNN.
Flake has frequently clashed with and spoken out against President Donald Trump’s behavior in the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, as well as some of Trump’s incendiary statements about race and foreign policy. Though Flake almost always votes for administration proposals and nominations.
However, following midterm elections disastrous for the GOP and Trump’s subsequent successful demand for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s resignation, Flake said on the Senate floor Nov. 14 that he wanted a bill advanced for a vote that would restrict Trump’s ability to fire Special Counsel Mueller. The bill turns Justice Department policy that only a senior official or another special counsel can fire Mueller into law. It also offers an expedited review process to reinstate Mueller if he (or future special counsels) is fired without cause.
With the GOP in control of the Senate, the committee is chaired by Republican Chuck Grassley, and the party holds a one-vote margin on the committee. Flake’s refusal—coupled with Democrats standing united in opposition—has meant none of President Donald Trump’s lifetime judicial nominations can advance in the current congressional session.
Flake’s blockage led to the end of a nomination of a controversial candidate, Thomas Farr of North Carolina, a Republican operative who had worked for Jesse Helms, and who is accused of attempting to disenfranchise black voters in that state. The sole black GOP senator, Tim Scott, stated his opposition as well, and the nomination was scuttled. (Farr had previously advanced through a preliminary stage in a 51 to 50 vote with Flake opposed. Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote.)
Flake announced months ago he would not run for re-election, and his replacement, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, will be sworn in January 3, 2019. The GOP retained and slightly expanded its majority in the Senate in midterm elections, rising from 51 seats to 53. Democrats hold 45 seats, and two independents caucus with the Democrats.
This makes it highly likely that judges will fly through the committee and confirmation in 2019, but nominations expire at the end of the current session of the Senate. Trump must re-nominate each candidate.