Republicans Show Little Urgency on Legislation to Protect Mueller

Two bills in Congress aim to protect Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, but efforts to reconcile them have made little progress.

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers warned President Trump on Sunday not to fire Robert S. Mueller III, but showed little sense of urgency to advance long-stalled legislation to protect the special counsel despite a report that Mr. Trump had tried to remove him last June.

“I don’t think there’s a need for legislation right now to protect Mueller,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Right now there’s not an issue. So why create one when there isn’t a place for it?”

Mr. McCarthy’s comments, similar to those made earlier by other Republicans, come amid bipartisan outrage over a report last week in The New York Times that Mr. Trump sought in June to fire Mr. Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The president backed down only after Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, threatened to quit rather than execute Mr. Trump’s order.

Democrats immediately seized on the report, saying they would try to ensure that continuing budget negotiations included legislation to protect the special counsel. But on Sunday, even Republicans who have backed such a bill appeared to settle instead on providing a warning to the president.

“It’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Mr. Graham, who has drafted one of two bipartisan bills to protect Mr. Mueller, said he would be “glad to pass it right now,” but quickly suggested that there was no need to do so.

“I see no evidence that Mr. Trump wants to fire Mr. Mueller now,” Mr. Graham said. “So I think we’re in a good spot with Mr. Mueller.”

Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that it “probably wouldn’t hurt” for Congress to pass legislation, but added that she had faith in Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees Mr. Mueller, to protect him.

Democrats, on the other hand, say the threat is real and pressing.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said Friday that the new disclosures made it urgent for Congress, which Republicans control, to act.

“The most important thing Congress can do right now is to ensure that Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation continues uninterrupted and unimpeded,” Mr. Schumer said then.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said in an interview on Sunday: “If there is a will to move forward, there is a way to do it. The question is: Will our Republican colleagues muster the political fortitude to do it?”

Senate Republicans moved quickly last August amid speculation that Mr. Trump might fire Mr. Mueller for investigating beyond his perceived mandate. They introduced dueling measures that would provide a layer of job protection and found Democrats eager to collaborate.

At a hearing in late September, a majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee appeared to be on board with advancing legislation to add job protections for Mr. Mueller and future special counsels, despite concerns about the constitutionality of such measures.

Both bills under consideration would empower a panel of federal judges to review the case for firing the special counsel and render a judgment about whether there was good cause to do so — the standard required by the law governing special counsels.

The difference is when to do so. A bill written by Mr. Graham and Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, would require the attorney general — or a deputy — to essentially ask for the judges’ permission to fire the special counsel. An approach drafted by Senators Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, and Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, would allow the counsel to appeal a dismissal after the fact.

Since then, discussions to combine the approaches into a single piece of legislation have made little progress. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said Friday that the two bills would have to be reconciled before his committee could proceed, but suggested that the measures were not on a fast track.

“If these latest reports are true,” he added, “it seems to me that they show the president listened to good advice from his advisers.

“Based on his statements from the last couple weeks, he and his lawyers appear to be cooperating with Mueller.”

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