By Jonah Ullendorff, Contributing Writer
A few noteworthy Republicans may be the only hope for the Senate to keep Donald Trump in check.
It is no secret that many Republicans were unhappy with Donald Trump as their nominee for the 2016 election. Many spoke out against him, assuming that his loss to Hillary Clinton was inevitable. Now that Trump is President, though, will these Republicans continue their opposition or will they simply toe the party line? While some Republicans who had been previously critical of Trump, like Ben Sasse of Nebraska, will not be much of a concern to the Trump administration, some Republicans are likely not done opposing him.
Sen. Susan Collins (Maine)
Collins would have been a thorn in the side of Republican whips even if Trump was not a controversial figure. Collins is the most moderate Republican in the Senate by a long shot; she may even be the most moderate Senator in the history of the United States. Collins, according to the voting record site On The Issues, is so moderate that her voting record is actually indicative of her leaning slightly to the left. Furthermore, Collins comes from the light blue state of Maine and will be up for reelection in 2018. Given that voters in Maine voted for Hillary Clinton by 48% to 45%, Collins would likely gain more support if she stood up to Trump instead of rubber stamping his policies.
While Collins may, therefore, vote against many Trump policies, her soft-spoken demeanor suggests that she will unlikely be a “loud” opponent of Trump, as apparent in her recent speech to the Senate that she would vote no on the Devos nomination. Thus, she will probably not become a standard-bearer of anti-Trump Republican sentiment. Still, as a Republican senator in a senate held by a slim Republican majority, her vote could make a difference on many key issues.
Sen. John McCain (Arizona)
John McCain and Donald Trump do not get along. Simply put, McCain’s no frills military attitude does not mesh well with Trump’s rich guy act. Many actually had predicted that Trump’s first clash with McCain back in July of 2015 would be Trump’s downfall. For those of us that cannot keep track of Trump’s gaffes, that was when Trump insulted McCain saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
McCain also is well known in Washington as being a man who is willing to put aside his personal differences and party loyalties. McCain was chief sponsor of the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, a bipartisan bill that intended to regulate the influence of money in campaigns. Although some of this act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2010 under Citizens United, John McCain is in part responsible for candidates saying, “I’m ________ and I approve this message,” after their ads. Through McCain-Feingold, McCain cemented his reputation as a man willing to promote bipartisanship.
Furthermore, McCain’s strong stance against torture may prove to be a major obstacle to Trump, who has said multiple times that he would be open to engaging in torture. In fact this clash has already been shown, on January 25th McCain resisted Trump potentially bringing back torture by saying, “[t]he President can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law.”
What makes McCain the biggest threat to Trump is his charisma and experience. McCain is an American hero with decades of political experience. McCain commands massive media attention and garners respect from his peers on both sides of the aisle. Trump would have been wise to attempt to gain McCain as a friend. The time for friendship has passed, and Trump is not one to mend fences, so he may be compelled to stay out of McCain’s way.
Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky)
Rand Paul deserves admiration. He may be the only Republican who actually stands for a fiscally small government, no exceptions. Paul’s libertarian values have long been a thorn in the side of Republicans who are unwilling to cut spending in politically sensitive areas. For example, Paul refused to cut social safety nets until corporate welfare was cut as well. Heis also staunchly opposed to U.S. military intervention abroad and has showed numerous times that, unlike his Republican colleagues, he is perfectly fine with cutting the military budget. Given Trump’s stated desire to increase government spending, Paul will almost certainly become an opponent of Trump and his spending in the coming years.
Also, to no one’s surprise, Paul and Trump have had their fair share of personal fights. For those who do not remember, Trump went so far as to insult Paul’s looks at the second GOP debate saying, “I never attacked him on his looks and believe me: There is plenty of subject matter right there.” In conclusion, Paul and Trump are not friends, and Paul will likely be on the receiving end of numerous Trump twitter insults.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
Though Graham is not a moderate (his voting record clearly indicates him as a far-right conservative), he may prove to be a nuisance to Trump for a few reasons.
Graham has repeatedly been insulted and belittled by Trump, straining their relationship. Not holding anything back, Trump told supporters in Graham’s home state of South Carolina, “I think Lindsey Graham is a disgrace, and I think you [the people of South Carolina] have one of the worst representatives in the United States, and I don’t think he should run. I don’t think he could run for dogcatcher in this state and win again. I really don’t. Other than that, I think he’s wonderful.”
Besides Trump’s insults against Graham, the senior Palmetto State senator will prove to be an enemy of Trump due to his common sense approach to politics. Even though Graham is a far-right Republican, he does not willfully ignore the truth, even to benefit his own party. For example, while Graham does not support many EPA environmental regulations, he still admits that climate change is real. This common sense approach to the world has already come into conflict with Trump in the context of Russian interference in the election. McCain and Graham recently came together with other Republican leaders to call for an investigation into potential Russian hacking. Trump of course did not take this lightly and mocked Graham saying: “He is going to crack that one percent barrier one day [in reference to Graham not being able to get 1% of the vote in the 2016 Republican primaries]. I didn’t realize Lindsey Graham is still at it. Clearly Trump and Graham are not on good professional terms, a bad sign for relations in the future.
And now recently Graham, along with his friend McCain, has come out against Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from many Muslim dominated countries. In a joint statement, the two senators said they believed this order will only make terrorism worse and not make the American people any safer.
Graham and Trump clashed heads yet again when Trump floated a possible 20% tax on Mexican imports. Graham, famous for his humor, tweeted his opposition to the proposed tariff: “Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila, or margaritas is a big-time bad idea. Mucho Sad,” Graham told his twitter followers.
Despite Graham’s conservative ideology, he will likely continue to exchange barbs with Trump moving forward. Graham humorously described the situation well. “I don’t know if I’m on the [Trump’s] kill list or not, that would be good to know,” Graham told CBS.
If Trump’s executive power is going to be checked, it will most likely be done by the Senate. The House of Representatives has a larger Republican majority of 240-193 and the Supreme Court will soon have its members filled with Trump appointees. The Senate, though, is barely controlled by Republicans 52-48. Since Vice President Pence would cast a deciding vote in a tie, a unified Democratic opposition would need to switch only 3 Republicans to their side to oppose Trump. As it has been outlined above, getting some Republicans to vote against their party is by no means impossible. Simply put, the future of opposition to Trump lies in Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats’ ability to convince Republicans to vote with them.