Democrats are feeling their oats after their victories in the midterms and are looking to use their leverage in the lame duck congressional session to maximum advantage.
The Dems plan to tie their support for a spending bill to language that would protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. A bill to fund a substantial portion of the government through the end of the year is currently in negotiations. Without it, there would be a partial government shutdown after December 8.
While spending for about 40% of federal departments has already been authorized, several vital agencies still need to be funded. Donald Trump wants to include about $5 billion for a border wall in the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security — something Democrats have vowed to oppose.
But with the appointment of Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Democrats sense that the investigation by Mueller is in jeopardy, even if it isn’t. Nevertheless, Democrats want to posture and speechify about the independence of the special counsel, even though he serves at the president’s pleasure.
If Congress and the White House cannot agree on a spending bill by Dec. 8, many agencies—including such high-profile entities as the Department of Homeland Security—will shut down. Democrats’ demand to protect the special counsel is just one piece of a complex fight over the spending package; Mr. Trump, for example, has said it must include $5 billion more for construction of a wall along the border with Mexico.
Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was “not going to rule out any option” if the spending bill doesn’t include language to shield Mr. Mueller.
“I feel very strongly about protecting Bob Mueller, “ Mr. Wyden said in an interview. ”I think that I will look at any and all vehicles in order to do that. That goes to the question as to whether the president is above the law.”
The proposed measure would protect a special counsel from removal except for “good cause.” That is generally interpreted as meaning malfeasance or some other grave problem, rather than a general dissatisfaction with the direction of an investigation.
Is this interference with the president’s prerogative to name his own department heads? That’s certainly one way to look at it. But Democrats really needn’t worry. Trump is not going to fire Mueller, knowing as he does that regardless of the legality of the move, it would set off a political firestorm in Washington.
So Democrats don’t want a border wall and will insist on protections for the special counsel. For his part, Trump has hinted that he will shut down the government if he doesn’t get funding for his wall, and may veto a spending bill that contains protections for Mueller.
This is a recipe for a shutdown that could last well into January.