Some of President Trump’s loudest Republican critics are asserting themselves during their final weeks in Congress, as the GOP prepares to usher in a class of lawmakers poised to show stronger support for the White House.
One defiant Republican is seeking to protect the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, another wants to toughen U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia, and a third is warning that embracing Trump is perilous for the future of the Republican Party.
The moves amount to a last gasp from a wing of the GOP that has been unable steer the party away from Trump during the first two years of his presidency and will see its ranks diminished in the next Congress. The shifting dynamic reflects Trump’s dominance in the party and the marginalization of dissenting voices, even after a disappointing midterm election for Republicans in which Democrats won back the House.
“This is the president’s party now. It really is. I don’t think you can read it any other way,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is retiring and has frequently voiced concerns about Trump.
But first, he is trying to use his remaining time in office to press for a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III from being fired by refusing to support Trump’s judicial nominees until he gets one.
The strategy, which Flake said in an interview was prompted by Jeff Sessions being forced out as attorney general, has irked some Republican senators.
“Has it given Jeff leverage? Sure. Does he have a right to do it? Yes. Do I agree with him? No,” said Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.).
In speeches, media interviews and a book, Flake has strongly condemned the president’s style and has decried the political tribalism that he says has become widespread during Trump’s leadership. But Flake’s comments have left most Republican lawmakers unmoved.
“I think one politician complaining about another does very little,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a former critic of Trump who has transformed into one of the president’s most enthusiastic allies.