A very powerful Washington, D.C. think tank sent a memo to Capitol Hill on Friday, asking Democratic members of Congress to oppose any measure to fund the government unless it includes a provision to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The demand by the Center for American Progress (CAP) to protect the probe into Russian election interference in 2016 has significantly raised the stakes in the upcoming battle over government spending.
When Congress returns from Thanksgiving break they will be forced to pass a bi-partisan spending bill in early December.
“Members of Congress should not vote for any spending bill that does not include provisions protecting the Mueller investigation,” the CAP memo read. “The DOJ cannot effectively operate with an acting attorney general installed to subvert a lawful investigation, and so Congress cannot fund the DOJ without express provisions to protect against such possible obstruction of justice.”
One thing the memo does not do is specifically ask Democrats to shut down portions of the government when some agencies run out of funding on December 7th.
The agencies affected include the Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Commerce.
Through the end of 2018 Republicans continue to control both chambers of Congress. Thus they can control what funding bill is considered for floor votes in both chambers.
If CAP is effective in drawing a line in the sand over a Mueller protection provision, it will increase the chances of at least a partial government shutdown.
Democratic votes are needed for government funding legislation to pass. Thus if Democrats in Congress push for Mueller protections as part of a spending bill they may be successful.
Republican leaders in Congress are already facing a fight with President Donald Trump who is still pushing for funding for a border wall with Mexico.
CAP’s memo was written as a direct response to the appointment of acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. Before his appointment Whitaker has openly expressed his strong disapproval of the special counsel probe.
“The Whitaker appointment broke the DoJ,” said Jesse Lee, a senior adviser at CAP, “we’re demanding it be fixed.”
CAP is calling for Congress to pass the “Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act” as part of the upcoming government funding legislation. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has said he will withhold his vote on Trump’s judicial nominees unless the Senate passes it as a whole. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he would not bring it to a vote in the Senate since he believes that there is no need to protect Mueller.