Republicans to Trump: Fire Mueller and risk ... not much

The public consensus among Republicans in Washington is clear: President Donald Trump is not going fire special couns...

Posted: Mar 21, 2018 5:01 AM
Updated: Mar 21, 2018 5:01 AM

The public consensus among Republicans in Washington is clear: President Donald Trump is not going fire special counsel Robert Mueller. But if he does, well, watch out!

For what, precisely, is another question. Over the past few days, with Russia probe chaos noises turned up to 11, the congressional GOP has offered -- and, in House Speaker Paul Ryan's case, "received" -- assurances that Mueller's job is safe. Ryan wouldn't reveal his source, but it's probably fair to rule out Trump's Twitter feed, which hasn't exactly been a font of affirmation.

The possibility that Trump would move to sack Mueller, something the White House insists isn't on the table, has been a point of anxiety since the former FBI chief's appointment last May. Part of that is on Trump, naturally, and his itchy Twitter finger. The country has for almost a year been an inflammatory "Fox and Friends" segment, followed by a tap-tap-tap-tweet away from a constitutional crisis. Now, as tensions ramp up and we begin to look around that corner, there's little to suggest congressional Republicans would, under any condition, stand up in opposition to Trump.

Not that they aren't talking. "If he tried to (fire Mueller), that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency," said the ever-quotable senior senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, on CNN's "State of the Union." He was repeating his own past remarks, just about to the word, but he never addressed the prospect of Republicans in Congress moving a measure -- like, for example, the one he co-authored -- to protect Mueller.

That kind of bipartisan bill, of which there are two now languishing in the Senate, would ensure the probe ran its natural course, not so much in defiance but in legally enshrined ignorance of Trump's whims. Anyway, it ain't happening. At least not this year. On Monday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, noting that any bill of that nature would eventually end up on Trump's desk, explained why.

"I don't see the necessity of picking that fight right now," the Texas Republican told reporters. On its face, the point is simple enough, especially as Congress runs up against another deadline to fund the government. But it says a lot more: This has been the GOP attitude with regard to Trump since the 2016 primaries. He called Mexicans "rapists." He targeted a federal judge over his family's Mexican roots. He was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. He divided the blame between neo-Nazis and people protesting the neo-Nazis after the deadly violence in Charlottesville. In each case, and so many more, Republicans have spoken out, then duly quieted down and voted to advance their mostly shared legislative agenda.

It hardly takes a genius pundit to see that elected Republicans, at least those with a desire to maintain their station, are either in accord or terrified (or both) of Trump and their -- well, his -- political base. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's silence in the immediate wake of Trump's latest onslaught undermined the tough talk from select members of his caucus. He spoke up on Tuesday, defending Mueller's integrity and expressing confidence in his fate, but, like other Republicans, waved off questions over legislation to shield the probe.

For all the rationalizing, the politics behind the GOP's lockstep here is pretty simple. They want peace with the White House because, in a fight, polls show Trump would come out on top.

An NBC/WSJ survey released Sunday asked Republican and "lean Republican" Trump voters if their loyalties lie more with the party or the President. The split was staggering (if not surprising) -- 59% said they considered themselves Trump supporters first. Only 36% told pollsters the GOP was their priority. Other polling consistently shows that, despite Trump's underwater overall approval ratings, he remains in good standing with Republican respondents.

But again, this isn't just a parlor game. Trump and his allies have repeatedly tested Capitol Hill Republicans. The President last weekend assailed Mueller, by name, and one of his lawyers, John Dowd, publicly asked -- no, prayed -- for the investigation to be halted by the Justice Department. Then there was the dismissal of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, late Friday and news Monday that Trump will hire Joseph diGenova, a Washington attorney who has alleged that the FBI and the Justice Department are framing up the President.

If you think of those developments as warning shots, a test to see how Congress might respond to further escalations, then the White House learned a lot this week. Rather than view any of the above as a sign of what's to come, and prepare to act like it, Republicans either tamped down concerns, ignored them or offered splashy quotes with little substance behind them.

"I do not think that the President is going to order anyone to fire Mr. Mueller. That would be a terribly serious mistake," said Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, offering a representative take. "And it's important to remember that the President cannot directly fire Mr. Mueller. Only the deputy attorney general can do that under the department's regulations."

Collins is right on the process, but given all we've seen in the past year, and especially over the last few days, the suggestion that those obstacles are sufficient, or inviolable to Trump, is -- even in these quite serious times -- laughable.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 93087

Reported Deaths: 2809
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6956155
DeSoto539355
Harrison372772
Jackson337867
Madison320086
Rankin318875
Lee258567
Jones239978
Forrest238270
Washington217471
Lafayette207239
Lauderdale1994124
Bolivar179065
Oktibbeha174750
Lamar162134
Neshoba1534103
Panola144027
Sunflower141144
Lowndes139857
Warren138050
Leflore136280
Pontotoc122516
Pike120948
Monroe118365
Scott116125
Copiah115933
Coahoma112327
Holmes109158
Marshall107515
Lincoln106253
Grenada105335
Yazoo103629
Simpson101243
Union97824
Tate95137
Leake93937
Adams91736
Wayne87421
Pearl River86250
Marion84133
Prentiss80817
Covington80622
Alcorn76811
Newton75623
Itawamba75221
Tallahatchie74918
George74413
Winston72319
Tishomingo65737
Chickasaw65224
Tippah64216
Attala64125
Walthall59325
Clay57117
Hancock56121
Jasper54915
Noxubee54315
Clarke53539
Smith52114
Calhoun50612
Tunica47913
Montgomery45420
Claiborne45116
Lawrence42512
Yalobusha41614
Perry40617
Humphreys37315
Quitman3735
Stone35011
Greene34317
Webster33113
Jefferson Davis32511
Amite31210
Carroll31212
Wilkinson30217
Kemper28615
Sharkey26312
Jefferson2399
Benton2181
Franklin1893
Choctaw1785
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128818

Reported Deaths: 2284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18911337
Mobile13039289
Montgomery8628173
Madison750775
Tuscaloosa7180114
Lee570559
Shelby564550
Baldwin504749
Marshall382143
Etowah333447
Calhoun332039
Morgan318126
Houston269922
Elmore251947
DeKalb234619
St. Clair221335
Walker220780
Talladega205026
Limestone197319
Cullman183017
Franklin174128
Dallas173626
Russell17112
Autauga167324
Lauderdale164133
Colbert159326
Escambia155725
Blount154214
Jackson149411
Chilton147127
Dale132743
Covington130227
Coffee12708
Pike11519
Tallapoosa113183
Chambers112342
Clarke104917
Marion93728
Butler90838
Barbour8307
Marengo69919
Winston69912
Lowndes64527
Pickens63114
Bibb62810
Hale61228
Randolph60712
Bullock58514
Lawrence58220
Monroe5758
Geneva5634
Cherokee55516
Washington54413
Perry5376
Clay5367
Wilcox53011
Conecuh52311
Crenshaw52231
Macon47620
Henry4674
Fayette4189
Sumter41819
Lamar3452
Choctaw34412
Cleburne3206
Greene30015
Coosa1613
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 65°
Columbus
Few Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 65°
Oxford
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 61°
Starkville
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 63°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather