Fox News Poll: Pelosi, McConnell face negative ratings heading into new term

After a contentious election that saw the Democrats win back the House and Republicans retain the Senate, voters view both parties’ congressional leaders negatively, according to the latest Fox News poll. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell receives the worst rating of the leaders included in the survey, with a net negative 16 (28 percent favorable … Continue reading “Fox News Poll: Pelosi, McConnell face negative ratings heading into new term”

After a contentious election that saw the Democrats win back the House and Republicans retain the Senate, voters view both parties’ congressional leaders negatively, according to the latest Fox News poll.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell receives the worst rating of the leaders included in the survey, with a net negative 16 (28 percent favorable vs. 44 percent unfavorable).  He’s followed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (36 favorable vs. 48 unfavorable) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (28 favorable vs. 40 unfavorable) — both net negative 12.


House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has a net negative rating of 4 (19 percent favorable vs. 23 percent unfavorable), however, he remains mostly unknown to voters with over half unable to rate him (57 percent).

It’s not all bad news though.  While ratings for Pelosi and McConnell remain underwater, the new poll shows they have both gained in popularity since August.  Polling was conducted Sunday through Tuesday, with most interviews completed prior to Pelosi and Schumer’s combative meeting at the White House on Tuesday.

Pelosi’s favorability is up 7 points since August, going from 29 to 36 percent.  That nearly matches her record of 37 percent favorable in March 2007 (roughly two months after she first became Speaker).

McConnell saw a similar boost of 6 points, and now has a record favorable of 28 percent. His previous high was 25 percent earlier this year (January 2018).

Party loyalty and independents are largely responsible for the gains.  In August, 46 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of independents viewed Pelosi favorably.  Today it’s 57 and 29 percent respectively.  For McConnell, 36 percent of Republicans and 11 percent of independents viewed him favorably in August; today those numbers stand at 45 and 27 percent.

Schumer’s ratings are holding steady.

Among Partisans

Pelosi receives a 57 percent favorable among Democrats.  That is higher than Schumer’s 40 percent among Democrats and McConnell’s 45 percent among Republicans.  McCarthy gets 29 percent among the party faithful.

For comparison, Republicans give Donald Trump a 75-point net positive rating:  87 percent favorable vs. 12 percent unfavorable.

Overall, views of Trump are slightly negative: 46 percent of voters have a favorable view of him, while 52 percent have an unfavorable one.


The holiday season is in full swing with companies hosting parties and families preparing to get together.  Will politics play a part in who people choose to spend time with this year?

Not so much.

Two-thirds of voters (66 percent) say the political views of friends and family won’t be a factor at all.

Still, for 27 percent politics will be a factor (13 percent “a major factor” vs. 14 percent “a minor factor”).

Those most likely to say it will be a factor are nonwhites (38 percent), voters under age 45 (37 percent), Democrats (35 percent), and urban voters (35 percent).

The Fox News poll is based on landline and cellphone interviews with 1,006 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from December 9-11, 2018.  The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for all registered voters.

‘The View’ host Joy Behar suggests Orrin Hatch should ‘go to jail’ for not speaking out against Trump

ABC News’ “The View” co-host Joy Behar declared on Thursday that retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) “maybe” should be sent to prison for not speaking out against President Trump.

“I don’t know if you saw this clip of Orrin Hatch, the esteemed, so-called senator from Utah,” Behar said. “I used to like him because he was very friendly with Teddy Kennedy,” the late Massachusetts senator.

Behar then described a clip – that ABC News did not air during the segment – in which she claimed Hatch said he didn’t care if President Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen committed crimes together.


“’I don’t care,’ he said, ‘the president’s doing a good job,” Behar said. “Where have we come when a senator from Utah is saying, 'I don’t care if he committed a crime?'”

Behar apparently was referencing a CNN interview with Hatch in which the senator was asked about Trump's links to Cohen. Hatch said, "All I can say is this: President Trump, before he became president, that's another world. Since he's become president, this economy has charged ahead. We're all better off, the country is better off."

When the reporter mentioned that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is a Trump appointee, Hatch said: "I don't care. All I can say is, he's doing a good job as president."

"View" co-host Meghan McCain reminded Behar that Hatch is “almost gone” when Behar fired back, “Don’t they care about democracy anymore?”


McCain complimented Hatch’s “hilarious” Twitter account before the show went to a commercial break. Behar was still fired up and continued the conversation when it returned from the break.

“The View” co-host Joy Behar suggested that outgoing Sen. Orrin Hatch should be locked up.

“He is going out of office. He has nothing to lose by speaking, against, truth to power about Trump,” Behar said. “Why does he say, ‘Even if he commits a crime, it’s OK?’ Maybe he needs to go to jail, too.”

Nobody on the panel immediately checked Behar for her comment and the discussion quickly pivoted to the pros and cons of being angry. Behar appeared to make the comment in jest, and it drew laughter from the audience. However, Behar has found herself in hot water with political rhetoric in the past.


Behar recently apologized after saying “God forbid” Trump lives another 20 years and has come under fire for mocking Vice President Pence’s Christian faith. She essentially has rejuvenated her career with over-the-top anti-Trump rhetoric and last month declared that it would be “a good day for Donald Trump to resign.”

Meanwhile, former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the race to succeed Hatch.

Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.

Kevin McCarthy worried about Google’s next steps in China

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke to Fox News on Tuesday night about his biggest concerns with the future of Google after the search giant's CEO sparred with lawmakers at a hearing.

Although he noted issues of privacy and political bias as well as a widening gap of distrust between tech companies and the American people, McCarthy said on "The Story with Martha MacCallum" that Google’s next steps in China concern him the most.

“They used to have the motto, ‘do no harm.’ They took away that motto a year ago, and you have to wonder why,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said he is questioning why there are 100 engineers said to be working on a project in China, while noting the tech giant’s power: 90 percent of all Internet searches go through Google, and 2/3 of adults now get their information from the Internet.


Republican lawmakers grilled Sundar Pichai, who became CEO in 2015, Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers asked if tech companies are serving as instruments of freedom or instruments of control in the U.S. and beyond.

Pichai reiterated Google's position that it has no plans "right now" to re-enter China with a search engine generating censored results to comply with the demands of that country's Communist government. If that changes, Pichai promised to be "fully transparent" about the move. Pichai has said he wants Google to be in China serving Chinese users.


Google has not offered search services in China since it largely left the country in 2010.


Pichai's appearance Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee came after he angered members of a Senate panel in September by declining their invitation to testify about foreign governments' manipulation of online services to sway U.S. elections. Pichai's no-show at that hearing was marked by an empty chair for Google alongside the Facebook and Twitter executives.


Pichai went to Washington later in September to mend fences. He took part last week in a White House meeting with other tech industry executives that focused mainly on getting government and businesses working more closely on accelerating emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.

President Trump has accused Google of rigging search results to suppress conservative viewpoints and highlight coverage from media that he says distribute "fake news." The company has denied any such bias.

Fox News' Martha MacCallum and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Frank Miles is a reporter and editor covering geopolitics, military, crime, technology and sports for His email is

Graham: Saudis would ‘be ‘speaking Farsi in about a week’ without US support against Iran

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox News on Sunday that Saudi Arabia's military "can't fight out of a paper bag" when confronted with Mideast challenges including Iran, and insisted that the U.S. has the necessary leverage to punish the Saudi leadership for its apparent role in the murder of dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi.

“Let me put it this way – I want to be very blunt with you," Graham told host Maria Bartiromo on "Sunday Morning Futures." "If it weren't for the United States they’d be speaking Farsi in about a week in Saudi Arabia."

Graham's remarks deepened his unusual divide with the White House on the issue. In an equivocal statement last month that highlighted the complexities of U.S. interests in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia's role in advancing American interests there, President Trump indicated it was not clear in his mind whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's death.

However, Graham echoed his colleagues in saying that classified intelligence briefings provided to members of Congress strongly suggested a different conclusion.

"Their military can’t fight out of a paper bag."

— Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“It's the most brilliant briefing I've ever received in my time in Congress," Graham said. "You had two analysts that walk us through the crown prince's focus on Mr. Khashoggi for about two years. This operation was very sophisticated.

"The person in charge of executing the operation is MBS’s right-hand man," Graham continued, using the three-letter acronym to refer to bin Salman. "There is no doubt by any senator who received this briefing that MBS was complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," backed up Graham on Sunday, telling host Jake Tapper: "We don't need direct evidence that he ordered the code red on this thing."

Khashoggi, a dissident who opposed Saudi Arabia's military intervention against Iranian-backed forces in Yemen, disappeared after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in early October.

Senators pressure Trump to take action on Khashoggi’s murder

Both Democrats and Republicans say the Saudis must pay a price for the death of columnist Jamal Khashoggi; chief congressional correspondent Mike Emanuel reports.

The CIA reportedly has concluded he was murdered inside, and Turkish officials have said more than a dozen people linked to bin Salman and Saudi intelligence entered and departed the country shortly before and after Khashoggi's death.

"The bottom line is that there is no way that 17 people close to him got a charter plane, flew to a third country, went into a consulate, killed and chopped up a man and flew back, and he didn't know about it, much less order it," Rubio told Tapper.

Jamal Khashoggi, seen here in 2011, vanished this past October. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

The U.S. has imposed a slew of sanctions against the individuals who U.S. intelligence has determined were involved in Khashoggi's apparent murder. But the White House has voiced fears that taking more aggressive action against Saudi Arabia might unnecessarily compromise U.S. strategic interests, as well as arms deals worth more than $100 billion.

"They give us 9 percent of our oil imports. We need them a lot less than they need us," Graham countered. "I don't buy this idea you've got to hook up to a murderous regime, a thug like MBS, to protect America from Iran. Quite the opposite. I think by hooking up with him we hurt our ability to govern the region.”

Resolution blames Saudi crown prince for Khashoggi’s murder

Bipartisan group of senators introduces a resolution to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi; analysis from Nile Gardiner, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

The influential South Carolina senator, who has built an unlikely friendship and close political alliance with Trump after bitterly opposing him during the 2016 presidential race, said the stakes are larger than Khashoggi alone.

"It's not just this dissident he's going after," Graham said. "He's going after others, people have been captured in other countries and brought back to Saudi Arabia because they've been critics in these countries. He put the Lebanese prime minister under house arrest in the most bizarre episode I've seen in 20 years and it goes on and on and on.”

Graham, who called bin Salman a "wrecking ball" and "crazy," said the prince's primary objectives have been to sever U.S. ties to Saudi Arabia.

"Well, we're going to label him complicit. We’re going to have a vote in the Senate saying that MBS was complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi," Graham said. "I'm never gonna support any more arms sales to Saudi Arabia."

Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo contributed to this report.

Gregg Re is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re.

Government shutdown threat looms over Capitol Hill’s Christmas season

You'll forgive lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides and Congressional journalists for lacking tidings of comfort and joy.

They're all too familiar with various phantasms depicting Christmas past, Christmas present and, yes, Christmas future on Capitol Hill.

Although it's been said many times, many ways, December can be pretty wretched in Congress.

Andy Williams pretty much nailed it when he sang about "scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago."

Sprints to renew tax breaks before the calendar flips to January. A Christmas Eve day vote on ObamaCare. Efforts to avert government shutdowns. Brawls over hurricane relief. A scrap over the "payroll tax" in 2011. The "fiscal cliff" of 2012 and 2013 was epic. Lawmakers fought up until Christmas, took a break and came a-wassailing back to Washington to battle through New Year's Day. Vice President Joe Biden rushed to the Capitol to negotiate on New Year’s Eve 2012 at around 8:30 pm and the Senate began voting at around 2 in the morning on Jan. 1, 2013.

December crises emerge with such regularity that the ox and lamb could almost keep time to the likelihood of Congressional combat this time of year.

Manchin: No reason to shut down government over wall funding

Sen. Joe Manchin weighs in on the possibility of a government shutdown over funding for the border wall.

If you blinked Thursday afternoon, you would have missed the House and Senate approving a stopgap spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown this weekend. The new deadline is 11:59:59 pm on Dec. 21.

This is the second interim spending bill, known as a "CR" for "Continuing Resolution," this fiscal year.

On the second day of Christmas, someone's true love bequeathed them two turtle doves. In Congress, it's unclear what you get for the second CR in a fiscal year. And if there is a government shutdown, it’s certain that the ten lords a-leaping will be among those furloughed.

Here's where we stand:

Congress and President Trump forged an agreement in September on five of the 12 annual appropriations bills. That left seven appropriations bills unfinished. The most significant was the Homeland Security Appropriations measure, which would potentially cover money for the border wall.

Democrats think President Trump's insistence on a border wall is as preposterous as Gayla Peevey demanding a hippopotamus for Christmas. Most Congressional Republicans and the President are dug in on this issue. This could be the last chance GOPers have to fund the wall, since Democrats take control of the House in January. So for now, Republicans are channeling the mantra that they "won't go until we get some."

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., says it would be "foolish to shut down the government" and "stupid not to find a solution" to this standoff. But Kennedy knows exactly where Trump stands.

"I don't think [the President's] kidding. I think he's prepared to shut the government down," opined Kennedy.

"If President Trump wants to throw a temper tantrum and shut down the government over Christmas over the wall, that's his decision," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday.

Any package to fund the government requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Republicans currently control 51 seats. That's why they need the support of at least nine Democrats. It's generally thought that Senate Democrats may be willing to cave on some funding for the wall. But it’s a different story in the House.

Few if any House Democrats would vote for any plan to fund the government if it includes wall money. That means House Republicans, in the majority for the moment, could be called upon to advance a spending bill to run the government, and presumably fund the wall, by themselves.

"We've got to secure our border,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the future chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-highest position in the House GOP hierarchy. "The fact that we have Democrats refusing to allocate resources to do that, well, the American people won't be happy."

But the problem with border wall funding may not lie with Democrats but Republicans. Multiple House GOP sources told Fox News that Republicans lack the votes to pass any spending bill on their own with or without wall funding. The math doesn't work on the GOP side of the aisle. Over the summer, the House twice rejected bills to fully fund the wall.

Here's the other problem. Fox News is told there are a number of defeated or retiring House Republicans who don't intend to come back to Washington so close to Christmas. In some ways, a vote just before the Dec. 21 deadline could actually help avert another shutdown if attendance dwindles. The outcome may hinge on who shows up.

Also, some conservatives privately concede they'd like a shutdown to hamstring Democrats as they assume control of the House in January.

"If I were the president, I would stick with it," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., about the push for wall money. "I've always thought more wall funding is necessary. And we've got to do something with the DACA recipients. Maybe if you marry those two up [Trump] could end the year on a high note."


When asked if she would accept some wall funding in exchange for a DACA deal, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., replied with an emphatic "no." Pelosi contends that the border wall and a DACA fix are "two different subjects" and advocates approving individual versions of six of the spending bills and then okaying a CR until Sept. 30, 2019 (the end of the fiscal year) for the Department of Homeland Security.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., took a dim view of Pelosi's proposal.

"I believe the best route is to keep the seven (appropriations bills) together," said Shelby.

This exercise also poses a challenge for the House Republican leadership. Some conservatives are sure to be apoplectic if the GOP brass accepts anything short of full wall funding. That grants those conservatives the chance to drive a wedge between Republicans as to who is fighting the hardest for the wall and serving as a rearguard for Trump. Some Republicans may even relish a fight with their leaders over the wall.


What's remarkable at this stage of the appropriations process is the lack of information. No one is even sure who is driving the sleigh. Is it outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.? House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., – who is about to become House Minority Leader McCarthy? Prospective House Speaker Pelosi? (Just a reminder. she doesn't quite have the required number of votes to become Speaker in January nailed down yet.) Retiring House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.?

So prepare yourself for Christmas at the Capitol.

And if there's a government shutdown on Dec. 22, that's the nightmare before Christmas.

Grassley wants answers about FBI raid on whistleblower with information on Clinton Foundation, Uranium One

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has written to FBI Director Christopher Wray and the Justice Department's internal watchdog to request information about a raid on the home of a former FBI contractor who gave the watchdog documents related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to a Russian firm's subsidiary.

According to The Daily Caller, 16 FBI agents raided the Maryland home of Dennis Nathan Cain on Nov. 19. Cain's lawyer, Michael Socarras, told the website that the agent who led the raid accused his client of possessing stolen federal property. In response, Cain reportedly claimed that he was a protected whistleblower under federal law and had been recognized as such by the DOJ watchdog, Michael Horowitz.

Socarras also claimed that Horowitz had transmitted his information to the House and Senate intelligence committees.

The documents in question allegedly show that federal officials failed to investigate possible criminal activity related to Clinton, the Clinton Foundation and Rosatom, the Russian nuclear company whose subsidiary purchased Uranium One in 2013.

In his letter to Wray, Grassley asked on what basis the FBI raided Cain's home, whether the bureau was aware of Cain's disclosures to Horowitz's office; whether the bureau considered those disclosures to be protected, and whether agents seized classified information in the raid. Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also asked Horowitz to update the panel on "the FBI's treatment of Mr. Cain's disclosures."

Grassley has given Wray and Horowitz until Dec. 12 to respond.

Fox News has previously reported that Douglas Campbell, an FBI informant involved in the deal, has testified to lawmakers that Moscow paid millions to American lobbying firm APCO Worldwide to influence Clinton and the Obama administration.


“The contract called for four payments of $750,000 over 12 months,” Campbell said in his statement this past February. “APCO was expected to give assistance free of charge to the Clinton Global Initiative as part of their effort to create a favorable environment to ensure the Obama administration made affirmative decisions on everything from Uranium One to the US-Russia Civilian Nuclear Cooperation agreement.”

APCO has denied Campbell's claims while Clinton called any claims of wrongdoing related to the Uranium One deal "the same baloney they’ve been peddling for years, and there’s been no credible evidence by anyone.

"In fact," Clinton told C-SPAN in October, "it’s been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked.”

Ted Cruz says he’s dropped ‘Lyin Ted’ nickname and ended feud with Trump

He says he's Lyin’ Ted no more.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, declared on Saturday night that the ignominious nickname bestowed on him by President Trump during the 2016 campaign season has been relegated to the annals of history — as has the feud between Cruz and Trump.

"This was also a breakthrough year in which my presidential sobriquet went from 'Lyin’ Ted' to 'Beautiful Ted,'" Cruz joked during a speech at the Gridiron Club. Cruz was joking, in the spirit of the roast.

He also quipped: “I gotta say, that new pet name felt like it really hit the mark. Why else do you think I’m growing a beard?"

Cruz added: "Anyway, silly nicknames can be hard to shed. Just ask my distinguished colleagues: Little Marco, Pocahontas and Spartacus."


The Texas senator clearly was referencing his fellow lawmakers, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey. The first two earned less than flattering – and, perhaps, culturally insensitive – nicknames from Trump. Booker himself invoked his "Spartacus moment" this past September when he released old emails from Brett Kavanaugh during a confirmation hearing for the future Supreme Court justice.

“In any event, I’m sure I’ve shaken off my 2016 nickname for good, along with any hard feelings that might have lingered from my clash with Donald Trump," Cruz said.

Cruz continued his jesting during his speech to the journalistic organization by referencing another one of Trump’s campaign-trail quips about the Texas senator.


"Sometimes you just have to put minor squabbles behind you . . . you know, like whether or not your dad was the guy on the Grassy Knoll,” he said.


During the 2016 campaign, Trump alleged that Cruz’s father had met with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. There does not appear to be any basis for Trump’s assertion.


Trump and Cruz patched up their relationship shortly before last month’s midterm elections. The president stumped in Texas for Cruz during his surprisingly tough re-election bid against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

“He’s not Lyin’ Ted anymore. He’s Beautiful Ted,” Trump told reporters in October. "I like Ted."

Sarah Palin says her house is damaged from Alaska earthquake

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said Friday her house suffered damage from the earthquake that rocked Alaska and expressed relief that her family is safe.

“Our family is intact – house is not… I imagine that’s the case for many, many others,” Palin wrote in a tweet asking for prayers for Alaska. “So thankful to be safe; praying for our state following the earthquake.”

Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee who is from Wasilla, did not elaborate on the extent of the damage to the family’s home.

In Anchorage, back-to-back earthquakes measuring 7.0 and 5.8 rocked buildings and buckled roads Friday morning, prompting people to run from their offices or take cover under desks and triggering a warning to residents in Kodiak to flee to higher ground for fear of a tsunami.


The U.S. Geological Survey said the first and more powerful quake was centered about seven miles north of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city.

Cracks could be seen in a two-story downtown Anchorage building. It was unclear whether there were injuries.

Photographs posted to social media sites showed damage that included collapsed ceiling tiles at an Anchorage high school and buckled roads. One image showed a car stranded on an island of pavement, surrounded by cavernous cracks where the earthquake split the road.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Alex Pappas is a politics reporter at Follow him on Twitter at @AlexPappas.

Ronna McDaniel ‘honored’ that Trump asked her to stay on as RNC chair

President Trump announced Thursday that he had asked Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to serve a second two-year term in the post.

"As RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel oversaw history defying gains in the Senate and unprecedented fundraising strength," Trump said on Twitter. "I have asked her to serve another term for my 2020 re-elect, because there is no one better for the job!"

"It has been a privilege to serve as RNC chairman under President Trump, and I am honored to have the opportunity for a second term," McDaniel said in a statement. "Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we have hit historic milestones for fundraising and voter engagement, and I’m confident we can do even more as we work to re-elect the president in 2020. I’m excited to continue our fight for the president’s America First agenda and for an even better future for the American people."

McDaniel, a niece of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, was elected to chair the RNC in January 2017 on Trump's recommendation. The post will be formally voted on by RNC members in January, though Trump's endorsement makes it unlikely that she'll face a significant challenge.

The RNC has not held a contested election for chairman since 2011, when Reince Priebus triumphed in a five-person contest that featured incumbent Michael Steele.

Trump judicial nominees stall on Hill, as Flake digs in over Mueller plan

Confirmation proceedings for President Trump’s judicial nominees have partially stalled on Capitol Hill, as outgoing Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake is standing firm in his vow to oppose all Trump nominations until the Senate votes on legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Flake, a frequent Trump critic who opted against running for re-election this year, followed through on his threat Wednesday afternoon and joined Democrats in opposing a bid to advance Thomas Farr’s nomination to serve on the federal bench for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Vice President Pence was then forced to break a tie on a procedural vote, in a rare Senate intervention. A final vote is expected Thursday.

While nominees like Farr may narrowly advance on the floor, proceedings at the committee level are stuck for now. Late Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee canceled plans for a Thursday meeting to vote on a long list of judicial nominees. Flake is a member of that committee. None of the nominations would have been favorably moved out of the committee if all Democrats plus Flake voted no.

Meanwhile, nominees already passed out of committee could be confirmed on the floor, though they may result in more airtight votes requiring Pence to serve as tie-breaker.


Flake, along with Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, on Wednesday tried to use a parliamentary maneuver to pave the way for a vote on the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which would shield Mueller from inappropriate removal or political pressure.

Flake asked for unanimous consent to vote on the bill, but Utah Sen. Mike Lee objected, blocking the effort.

The three lawmakers expressed concern over comments made by President Trump, who has called the Mueller probe a “phony witch hunt,” as well as Trump’s ousting of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“It’s clear, therefore, something has to be done to protect Mr. Mueller’s investigation,” Flake said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.


The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act mandates that a special counsel can only be fired for good cause by a senior Justice Department official.

Earlier this month, Flake said on the Senate floor, "I have informed the majority leader I will not vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees pending in the Judiciary Committee or vote to confirm the 32 judges awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor until … [the bill] is brought to the full Senate for a vote."

Some Republicans counter that the bill is unnecessary.

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters this week.

Still, with Flake’s vow complicating GOP efforts to confirm Trump’s judicial nominees, The Hill reported Thursday that the Republican leadership is privately measuring support for the bill, and considering whether to hold a vote on it to satisfy Flake.

During Tuesday’s briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders denied that the president is considering firing Mueller.

“Look, I think that the president has had Robert Mueller doing his job for the last two years, and he could’ve taken action at any point, and he hasn’t. So we’ll let that speak for itself,” she said.

Sanders added, “He has no intent to do anything.”


Other Republicans also are signaling, for other reasons, they are willing to hold up Congress' agenda – including a spending bill meant to avert a partial government shutdown. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on Wednesday suggested he may refuse to vote on other issues until the Senate hears from the CIA about the murder of Saudi activist Jamal Khashoggi.

"I'm not going to be denied the ability to be briefed by the CIA," Graham told reporters. "Anything that you need me for to get out of town, I ain't doing it until we hear from the CIA."

As for judicial nominees, a final confirmation vote on Farr’s nomination is expected Thursday. Though Farr’s nomination advanced with Pence’s support Wednesday, it’s not clear whether he will still have the votes of all Republicans in the final floor vote.


The Farr nomination has been controversial, with all 49 Democrats opposing Farr, arguing that Farr discriminated against African Americans through his rulings on voting laws.

“Mr. Farr defended North Carolina’s absurdly restrictive voter ID law, also passed by the conservative Republican state legislature, and they tailored their election laws to disadvantage African-American voters after requesting race-specific data on voting practices,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said.

Republicans, meanwhile, are standing behind Farr.

“The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary — a body that's frequently been held up by my Democratic colleagues as the ‘gold standard’ — has awarded Mr. Farr its highest possible rating: unanimously well qualified,” McConnell said.

Fox News’ Jason Donner and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.

Alex Pappas is a politics reporter at Follow him on Twitter at @AlexPappas.