THE BIG IDEA: Last night’s news that Robert S. Mueller III has begun using a grand jury in federal court in Washington, as part of his investigation into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, further boxes in the president and makes it more politically difficult to justify firing the special counsel.
— If President Trump ever lost the support of Sen. #Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), he just might be doomed. A former state House speaker, Tillis is a reliable Republican apparatchik whose vote party leadership can count on. So it was a big deal yesterday when he introduced legislation with a Democratic colleague, Chris Coons (Del.), to prevent Trump from firing Mueller without cause.
Tillis, known as a savvy political strategist, is clearly thinking ahead to what he realizes will be a very difficult reelection campaign in 2020. “It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” he said in a news release.
The first-term senator toppled Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in one of the nastiest and most expensive races of the 2014 midterm cycle. Trump carried the Tar Heel State last November by 4 points, and everyone expects it will be one of the key battlegrounds next time. “Our polls and others have found that Tillis has never been able to strengthen his position after going into office unpopular on the heels of winning a ‘lesser of two evils’ election where he got by largely based on the political climate,” said Raleigh-based Democratic pollster Tom Jensen, who runs Public Policy Polling. “The landscape is likely to be a lot different in 2020 unless things really turn around for the Trump administration, so it’s wise for Tillis to take steps that might make him look like ‘not just another Republican’ to appeal to Democrats and independents. Democrats still have about a 10-point registration advantage in North Carolina. So some reasonable threshold of crossover support is necessary for Tillis to win, and he hasn’t done a lot since getting elected that crosses across party lines. This seems like a smart step in that direction for him.”
North Carolina’s other Republican senator, Richard Burr, has already been leading the intelligence committee’s inquest into Russian interference. And many in the state remain proud of the role that the late Sen. Sam Ervin famously played during the Watergate investigation.