US Senate Republicans gain leverage in opposing President-elect Trump

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WASHINGTON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - It is no surprise that Democrats in the U.S. Congress will oppose Donald Trump but the most important resistance to fulfilling the president-elect's agenda is beginning to emerge from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

A small number of influential Republicans in the Senate are threatening to block appointments to Trump's administration, derail his thaw with Russia and prevent the planned wall on the border with Mexico.

The party held onto control of the Senate at the Nov. 8 election but by only a thin margin, putting powerful swing votes in just a few hands.

That empowers Republican Senate mavericks such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Both were bitter rivals to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

RELATED: Republicans come out against Donald Trump

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Republicans coming out against Donald Trump
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Republicans coming out against Donald Trump

Arizona Senator John McCain: "I will not vote for Donald Trump."

(Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney: Trump's "vile degradations ... corrupt America's face to the world."

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte: "I will not be voting for Donald Trump."

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: "No apology can excuse away Donald Trump's reprehensible comments degrading women."

(Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Texas Senator Ted Cruz: Trump's comments are "disturbing and inappropriate, there is simply no excuse for them."

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: "I have never been comfortable with Donald Trump as our Republican nominee."

(Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "Donald Trump should not be President."

(Photo by Vladimir Shtanko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

South Dakota Senator John Thune: "Donald Trump should withdraw and Mike Pence should be our nominee effective immediately."

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski: "I cannot and will not support Donald Trump for president."

(Photo by Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse: Donald trump "is obviously not going to win [and should] step aside."

(Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo: Donald Trump should step aside due to "disrespectful, profane and demeaning" behavior.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Utah Senator Mike Lee: Donald Trump is a "distraction.

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Maine Senator Susan Collins: Donald Trump is "unsuitable for the presidency ... I [can] not support his candidacy."

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Texas Senator John Cornyn: "I am disgusted by Mr Trump's words about women."

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman: "The time has come for Governor Pence to lead the ticket."

(Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Utah Representative Mia Love: Stated she "cannot vote for" Donald Trump. 

(Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Ohio Senator Rob Portman: "I can no longer support [Trump]."

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Colorado Representative Mike Coffman: Donald Trump should withdraw "for the good of the country."

(Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Missouri Representative Ann Wagner: "I withdraw my endorsement and call for Governor Pence to take the lead" in the race.

(Photo via REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Nevada Representative Joe Heck: "I believe our only option is to formally ask Mr. Trump to step down."

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake: Donald Trump is "wrong about his level of support. He needs to withdraw from the race."

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Virginia Representative Barbara Comstock: Trump's remarks were "disgusting, vile, and disqualifying."

(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Illinois Senator Mark Kirk: Donald Trump is a "malignant clown — unprepared and unfit to be president of the United States."

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan: "I will support Governor Mike Pence for President."

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Colorado Senator Cory Gardner: Donald Trump's flaws are "beyond mere moral shortcomings ... I cannot and will not support someone who brags about degrading and assaulting women."

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

New Jersey Representative Scott Garrett: Has stated he is "appalled" by Trump's actions.

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer: "It would be wise for [Trump] to step aside."

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard: "Enough is enough. Donald Trump should withdraw in favor of Governor Mike Pence."

(AP Photo/James Nord)

Former New York Governor George Pataki: "Enough! [Trump] needs to step down."

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina: "Donald Trump does not represent me or my party."

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Michigan Representative Fred Upton: Donald Trump needs to "step down."

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam: Trump should "step aside and let Gov. Mike Pence assume the role as the party's nominee."

(Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

Utah Governor Gary Herbert: "I will not vote for Trump."

(Photo by James MacDonald/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley: "I cannot and will not vote for Donald Trump."

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

California Representative Steve Knight: Trump's comments were "inexcusable."

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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Paul, a libertarian lone wolf, says he will block Senate confirmations if Trump nominates either former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to be secretary of state.

South Carolina's Lindsay Graham has started publicly outlining places he might be willing to oppose Trump. He is against the Mexican border wall and is delivering warnings against Trump's intention to revoke legal status for undocumented immigrants brought here as children - although that would not require congressional approval.

Graham, a traditional Republican foreign policy hawk, strongly disagrees with Trump's attempt to improve ties with Russia.

"I am going to be kind of a hard ass" on Russia, Graham told reporters recently. "We can't sit on the sidelines" and let cyber attacks blamed on Russia "go unanswered."

SEE ALSO: White nationalist alt-righter claims 'Hail Trump' comments were 'ironic'

The early stirrings of opposition from Senate Republicans are a sign that the New York businessman, who has never held public office, might run into harsh political realities soon after taking office on Jan. 20.

Other Senators who might defy Trump are Arizona's John McCain and Jeff Flake, Nebraska's Ben Sasse, Florida's Marco Rubio, Maine's Susan Collins and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, said senior Senate aides and lawmakers.

These lawmakers have ruffled feathers in the past and some have a good political reason not to fear Trump: Paul, McCain, Murkowski and Rubio do not have to run for reelection until 2022. Graham, Collins and Sasse will have to face the voters in 2020; Cruz and Flake have an earlier election, in 2018.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose job is to keep the Republicans in line, knows the challenges ahead. A senior Republican aide said McConnell is "loathe" to spend time trying to move bills that lack the needed Senate votes.

McConnell is aware he will not have the support of some of his own lawmakers on bills that could pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, such as appropriating money to build the Mexican wall and further abortion restrictions, the aide said.

RELATED: Photos from President-elect Trump's meeting with Mitt Romney

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Romney and Trump meeting
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Romney and Trump meeting
Mitt Romney arrives at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney arrives to meet with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney arrives to meet with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence (R) greet former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) as he arrives for their meeting at the the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
BEDMINSTER TOWNSHIP, NJ - NOVEMBER 19: President-elect Donald Trump (C) and vice president-elect Mike Pence (R) welcome Mitt Romney (L) to the clubhouse at Trump International Golf Club, November 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
US President-elect Donald Trump welcomes Mitt Romney as he arrives for a day of meetings at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club November 19, 2016 in Bedminster, New Jersey. / AFP / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump greets Mitt Romney as he arrives at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
US President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence welcome Mitt Romney as he arrives for a day of meetings at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club November 19, 2016 in Bedminster, New Jersey. / AFP / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump, center, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, right, and Mitt Romney, left, enter the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President-elect Donald Trump, center, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, right, and Mitt Romney, left, enter the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
BEDMINSTER TOWNSHIP, NJ - NOVEMBER 19: President-elect Donald Trump (L) and vice president-elect Mike Pence (R) welcome Mitt Romney (C) to the clubhouse at Trump International Golf Club, November 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
US President-elect Donald Trump (L) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence (R) welcome Mitt Romney as he arrives for a day of meetings at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club November 19, 2016 in Bedminster, New Jersey. / AFP / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
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DEMOCRATIC STRAYS

But Trump has a history of taming what appear to be well-entrenched Republican opponents. He won the party nomination against all the odds and some of his staunchest opponents like Rubio and Cruz ended up endorsing him.

And swing votes in the Senate cut two ways. The Democrats have their own potential renegades such as West Virginia's Joe Manchin, who has already declared his support for Trump's nomination of Republican Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

Such swings by Democrats toward Republicans may be likelier ahead of the 2018 elections, when Democrats must defend more vulnerable Senate seats than Republicans. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer must deal with this. Trump said over the weekend he and Schumer "always had a good relationship."

SEE ALSO: Tennessee school bus crash kills at least six children

Republicans are likely to control only 52 seats in the 100-seat Senate, meaning three defections within the party are enough to block cabinet appointments which only require 50 votes. Vice President-elect Mike Pence would break 50-50 ties.

The task for McConnell gets more difficult when it comes to passing legislation, which requires 60 votes, known as cloture, to allow a bill to move forward. If Trump plans to sign a bill while in office, perhaps one that will change immigration law or restrict abortions, McConnell will have to keep all Republicans in line and win over an additional eight Democrats.

Trump could deliver on campaign promises that do not require legislative approval like blocking the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal or ending the Iran nuclear pact. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, enjoys robust Republican support and would be done through a legislative maneuver that does not require any Democratic support.

Collins and Murkowski have a history of crossing the aisle to join Democrats and could shy from abortion restrictions.

Cruz has never feared disrupting Senate business to prove a point or seek concessions in legislation.

Sasse did not waver from his staunch criticism of Trump through the campaign. Flake has said he is "eating crow" after Trump's win, but he could defect on immigration and border security, issues he has previously joined with Democrats on.

Paul was asked last week on MSNBC if he would put a hold on Giuliani or Bolton. In the Senate, a hold allows a single senator to delay a confirmation. He left open the possibility of such a move, saying, "I feel pretty strongly about it."

He said: "We have a 52-48 majority, all it would take is two or three Republicans to say they can't go along with Giuliani and can't go along with Bolton."

RELATED: Donald Trump's rumored picks for the Trump administration

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Donald Trump's rumored picks for his administration
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Donald Trump's rumored picks for his administration
Sarah Palin is rumored to be among Trump's picks for Interior Secretary. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump named Jeff Sessions his pick for U.S. attorney general. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump named Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn his pick for National Security Adviser. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Trump named Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., as his preferred pick for CIA director. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Newt Gingrich is rumored to be among Trump's top picks for secretary of state. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Mitt Romney has reportedly been in discussions for secretary of state. 

(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Ted Cruz was believed to be under consideration for Trump's attorney general

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Steven Mnuchin is rumored to be Trump's top pick for Treasury Secretary. (KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
 

Bob Corker is also rumored to be among Trump's picks for secretary of state. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Stephen Hadley is rumored to be in the running for secretary of defense. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Jim Talent is rumored to also be in the running for secretary of defense. REUTERS/Tim Parker 

Rudy Giuliani was also rumored to be among Trump's top picks for attorney general. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Forrest Lucas is rumored to be Trump's top pick for Interior Secretary. ( Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

Robert Grady is also being eyed for the Interior Secretary position.  REUTERS/Fred Prouser 

Donald Trump Jr. is also said to have interest in the Interior Secretary position. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Controversial pick Sid Miller is one of the many being considered for Agriculture Secretary. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Sam Brownback is also one of the several names being considered for Agriculture Secretary. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Billionaire Wilbur Ross is a rumored choice for Commerce Secretary. FINANCE-WLROSS/ REUTERS/Tim Chong 

Daniel Dimicco, a Trump Trade Advisor is also on the possible list for Commerce Secretary.  REUTERS/Chris Keane 

Victoria Lipnic (left) is being considered for Labor Secretary.(AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Rick Scott is considered to be a top contender for Health and Human Services Secretary.  REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

Ben Carson was also rumored to be in the running for Health and Human Services Secretary -- but said he doesn't want the job. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Harold Hamm is considered to be the top contender for Energy Secretary.  (AP PhotoKevin Cederstrom)

Jeff Miller's name has been bounced around many times for the Veterans Affairs Secretary position. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

David Clarke is rumored to be among Trump's top picks for Homeland Security Secretary. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Myron Bell who has been a part of Trump's transition team is rumored to be the top pick for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator position. 

Photo Credit: Twitter/oliverwasow

Representative Tom Price of Georgia is being considered for the position of secretary of health and human services.

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Ivana Trump, the president-elect's ex-wife, has said she wants Trump to name her as ambassador to the Czech Republic.

(Photo by Michael Zorn/Invision/AP)

John Bolton is yet another rumored pick for secretary of state. 

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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