Monday, March 19, 2018

Not Certain, But Likely

On Sunday, CNN reported

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a chief GOP critic of President Donald Trump, said Sunday he expects pushback from his colleagues over Trump's increased attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller.

"We can't in Congress accept that," Flake said on CNN's "State of the Union," adding, "I would expect to see considerable pushback in the next couple of days."

Jeff Flake seems to have a modicum of integrity, which is a modicum more than most GOP members of Congress, so I hope he doesn't hold his breath or make book on it.

Generously (though pointedly), The Week early this morning offered the headline "John McCain joins a thin chorus of Republicans defending Mueller after Trump's weekend tweetstorm."  Given that the chorus includes only  the aformentioned Flake and McCain, plus Senator Lindsey Graham and House Intelligence Committee member Trey Gowdy, that chorus is less "thin" than "emaciated."

Additionally, it probably has escaped the attention of few observers that Flake and Gowdy have announced their retirement, McCain is very unlikely to run for re-election, and that Graham is, well, Graham, prone to criticizing Trump and defending him on alternate weeks.

It's not comforting that

“I’m not sure the House can do a lot,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on “Fox News Sunday.” Gowdy urged the president to give Mueller the space and resources to finish his probe unimpeded, but he noted that the Senate has more leverage over Trump on this issue because it has a say in his senior administration appointments.

It's not my job, Gowdy seems to be saying, which is significant coming from a Republican who does not have to fear the wrath at primary time from Trump and his acolytes. However, it can remind us that Republicans have put up very little resistance to the President on appointments and even less on legislation. (Twelve House Republicans voted against the tax bill, eleven of them from New York or New Jersey, whose residents will be slammed by the provision on property tax deduction; no Senate Republican voted against it.)

While there are four GOP members of Congress- out of a total caucus of 290- who have questioned Trump's attack on Republican Mueller, that is four more than have spoken out in favor of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (also a Republican).  With Attorney General Sessions having recused himself, the Special Counsel serves at the pleasure of the Deputy Attorney General.

If Rosenstein is fired, he presumably would be replaced by an individual more sympathetic to the President and less sympathetic to the inquiry than Rosenstein is assumed to be.  Even if Mueller survives, the scope of his investigation could be curtailed or his budget cut, which might give Republicans cover to claim their President allowed the respected Special Counsel to remain while the effort to get the truth out would be aborted.

Nate Silver has tweeted "we don't know as much as we think we do about how Republicans would react if Mueller were fired, in the same way that a building surviving a magnitude 6 earthquake doesn't tell you that much about how it would respond to a magnitude 8." We don't know for sure, much as we don't know if the New Orleans Pelicans will make the NBA playoffs. But we can speculate, and 286-4 gives us a fairly good idea.


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