McConnell Is Senate Leader, Not Its Ruler

Others Can Force Action to Protect Russia Investigation

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claims to control which legislation comes to the Senate floor. His colleagues may prove him wrong.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has put his foot down to squash a bit of budding bipartisanship among his GOP colleagues and further solidify his allegiance to President Trump.

His fellow Republicans – and Democrats – shouldn’t let him get away with it.

McConnell declared on Tuesday that Republicans and Democrats who’ve joined forces on a bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election are wasting their time.

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility as majority leader. We will not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell told Fox News. He’s confident that the president isn’t going to fire Mueller and that even if the bill were to pass Trump would veto it, McConnell said.

Though polls say a strong majority of Americans want the Mueller investigation to continue, the conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill is that with McConnell in opposition, the special counsel legislation is dead. But it need not be. McConnell manages the Senate calendar as majority leader, but he is not the Senate’s ruler; his colleagues have ways – if they can summon the will and skill to employ them – to get around him.


Any senator could introduce the Mueller protection bill as an amendment to or a substitute for legislation already on the Senate floor. Senate rules give McConnell several tools to counter such an effort, but if a supermajority of 60 senators wants to force the issue and can hold together, it has a chance to overrule him.

The bill also could be brought to the floor as a stand-alone measure with a “motion to proceed” from any senator. Again, McConnell has tools at his disposal to thwart such an effort, but if 60 or more senators support the bill and insist on moving forward, they could prevail.

At this writing, the Senate bill to protect Mueller has four sponsors, Republicans Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis and Democrats Cory Booker and Chris Coons. It also has an apparently sympathetic Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, R-IA, who despite McConnell’s opposition has scheduled a mark-up for next week that is likely to produce a positive vote.

There’s a reasonable chance that a bipartisan vote in committee for protecting Mueller would push McConnell to reassess his stand against bringing it to the floor; unanimous support for it among the Democratic minority would further ratchet up pressure on the GOP leader. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has parliamentary tools that would allow him to effectively shut down the Senate, should he choose to use them.

McConnell has proven flexible during other legislative standoffs. When Democratic and GOP lawmakers teetered on the edge of a “fiscal cliff” during a dispute in 2013 over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, McConnell pulled them back with a phone call and a question to then-Vice President Joe Biden: “Does anyone down there know how to make a deal.” After the two men crafted a compromise ending the crisis, Biden called McConnell the best deal-maker he’d seen in 40-plus years in and around the Senate.

All this is an extended way of saying the fight to protect the Mueller investigation isn’t over. And it’s a fight worth waging. We Americans like to brag that in our democracy, no one is above the law. If we allow Trump to shut down an investigation of how a foreign power tried to sabotage our election, and potentially of how the president’s campaign cooperated in or aided the sabotage, that boast will be revealed as a sham.

We can’t allow that to happen.