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Flake Admits Retirement Freed Him to Block Trump Judicial Nominees

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Retiring senator Jeff Flake acknowledged on Friday that he would not be holding up President Trump’s judicial nominees if he was worried about being reelected.

Flake, who announced his retirement in October after several ugly clashes with Trump, has vowed to oppose the president’s judicial nominees until he gets a vote on a bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired. On Thursday, he halted the progress of 21 judicial picks in the Judiciary Committee and stopped another nominee on the Senate floor.

The bill would allow Mueller to challenge a firing and require a Senate-confirmed official to fire him.

“Confirming judges is important,” Flake said in a CNN interview. But “we need to protect the special counsel. . . . This has to be priority now. You have to take a stand.”

“I have leverage because we have a narrow majority on the Judiciary Committee and so I’m using it,” he added. “You use leverage to get votes to the floor that should be on the floor.”

When asked whether he’d have been able to use that leverage if he weren’t retiring, the Arizona Republican said, “Probably not, but it’s not that it shouldn’t be done. I just felt that it was important to do.”

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said this week that he “probably would” block another effort to force a vote on the Mueller bill, and called it “a solution in search of a problem.” Republicans have already blocked a vote on the bill twice this month.

“I don’t think that was a smart move,” said Republican senator Orrin Hatch of Flake’s tactics. “It’s starting to irritate people. . . . He’s a good guy. But I think he’s carrying it a little bit far.” Senator Ted Cruz concurred that Flake’s strategy was “not productive.”

“We don’t want to provoke a Constitutional crisis,” Flake said. “I think it’s for the good of the country, I really do.”