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Senate Appropriators Cast Doubt on Mueller Protections Making It Into Spending Deal

Chairman wants to keep December spending deal as clean as possible, despite interests of Pelosi, House Democrats

Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., speaks with reporters last month. The Senate is expected to return this week and begin considering a roughly $857 billion fiscal 2019 spending package. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., speaks with reporters last month. The Senate is expected to return this week and begin considering a roughly $857 billion fiscal 2019 spending package. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby thinks trying to attach language designed to shield Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III to a big December spending package would be ill-advised.

Asked ahead of a meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump about the interest of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to use the must-pass spending measure as the vehicle for such a bill, Shelby said, “She’s not talking about putting it in an appropriations bill?”

Speaking with reporters earlier Thursday, Pelosi, the California Democrat who is most likely the next speaker, reiterated a call for any year-end spending deal to include language protecting the Mueller-led Russia probe.

“House Democrats demand once again, that in our negotiations on the omnibus bill, that the GOP leadership join us in including language … to protect any special counsel,” Pelosi said at a news conference.

She said the language should ensure that a special counsel can’t be fired without cause, that he be granted a three-judge appeals panel if fired, and could be replaced only by a Senate-confirmed attorney general or top Justice Department official.

She said it should also require the preservation of all documentation, “so the people could know the truth.”

When presented with Pelosi’s statement, Shelby advised against such an effort.

“Oh, I think we don’t need that in an appropriations bill,“ the Alabama Republican said. “Myself, I think we need to try to stay the way we’ve tried to do this and we’ve been successful — keeping out a lot of anomalies.”

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the top Senate Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice had said Wednesday she doubted the final fiscal 2019 spending bill for the department would include such a provision.

“One of the reasons the Appropriations process moved forward the way it did was because there was an agreement that everybody held to that said we are not going to get into riders, amendments on the Appropriations bills that deal with controversial issues that will bog the process down. Now I support the Mueller investigation, but I’m not going to do something that I think will keep the bill from passing,” Shaheen said.

Even one of the Republican senators who introduced part of the bipartisan legislation designed to provide a degree of protection to Mueller had doubts about the strategy proposed by the House Democrats.

“I don’t know what the market would be for that. I don’t see a threat to Mueller,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “But, I would certainly support my bill.”

Along a parallel track, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware made an ill-fated unanimous consent request on Wednesday to get Mueller legislation considered on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was quick to object.

Flake then threatened to vote against pending Trump judicial nominations, potentially complicating their path out of the Judiciary Committee and making confirmation a heavier lift on the Senate floor.

McConnell has said previously that the special counsel shield measure was not on his agenda for the lame duck session.

And aside from potentially infuriating Trump, the bill itself has opposition in the Senate on the Republican side, including from Sen. John Kennedy. The Louisiana Republican is a member of the Judiciary Committee .

“I’m not going to impugn Jeff’s motives. He’s a good man. I don’t agree with what he’s doing. I don’t think the legislation that he and Sen. Coons are proposing is either A) constitutional or B) necessary,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said that while he had full confidence in Mueller, he expressed a hope that the special counsel’s office would, “wrap it up” as efficiently as possible.

“If somebody did something wrong, they need to be indicted, and they should prosecute the hell out of them,” Kennedy said. “But let’s go ahead and get this wrapped up and move on.”

Jennifer Shutt and David Lerman contributed to this report.Get Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

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