Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) engage in a heated argument during a closed-door lunch meeting Thursday after McConnell tried to strongarm Flake into backing off his strategy of blocking Trump’s judicial nominees in an effort to force a vote on his bill that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired without good cause.
During the heated confrontation, McConnell challenged Flake’s effort to force a vote on legislation protecting the special counsel. Flake, however, dug in his heels and made clear that he’s not going to budge.
But McConnell was equally implacable, The Hil reports, citing senators who witnessed the argument.
“It’s a standoff,” said a Republican senator who attended the lunch.
Their fight reflects a larger divide win the GOP conference.
Some GOP senators argue the chamber should pass legislation to protect Mueller.
Flake and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) have co-sponsored legislation that would codify Department of Justice rules requiring that a special counsel only be fired for good cause.
McConnell argued at the meeting that the legislation would chew up precious floor time during the lame-duck session and leave less time for must-pass bills such as the unfinished spending bills and the farm bill, according to sources familiar with the conversation.
Flake, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, didn’t buy that argument.
He replied that Democrats wouldn’t object to speedy consideration of the special counsel protection bill because their entire caucus supports it, sources said.
Flake argued that the bill could be dealt with in a day as long as other members of the GOP conference didn’t object to it and force McConnell to waste time getting through a filibuster.
The fate of the Mueller investigation became a more pressing concern to some Republican senators after an increasingly nervous president Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign immediately after the election.
He then named Mathew Whitaker, a critic of the investigation, to serve as acting attorney general as a first step to end the Mueller probe.