Some of President Trump's most vocal Republican critics are asserting themselves during their final weeks of convention, as the GOP prepares to pave the way for a class of lawmakers ready to show stronger support for the White House.
A defiant Republican seeks to protect the special advocate's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 elections, another wants to toughen US policy towards Saudi Arabia, and a third is putting guard that the adoption of Trump is perilous for the future of the Republican party.
The moves represent a last breath from a branch of the GOP that has failed to move Trump's party away during the first two years of his presidency and will see its numbers dwindle during the next Congress. The changing dynamics reflect Trump's dominance of the party and the marginalization of dissenting voices, even after a disappointing mid-term election for Republicans, in which the Democrats reclaimed Parliament.
"It's the president's party now. It really is. I do not think you can read it otherwise, "said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), who is retiring and has often voiced concerns about Trump.
But first, he tries to take advantage of the time he has left to pass a bill to protect the special advocate, Robert S. Mueller III, from dismissal by refusing to support candidates for Trump's judiciary until he gets one.
The strategy, which, according to Flake during an interview, was motivated by the forced removal of Jeff Sessions as the attorney general, has upset some Republican senators.
"Did he give Jeff a leverage? Sure. Does he have the right to do it? Yes. Am I in agreement with him? No, said Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.).
In speeches, media interviews and a book, Flake strongly condemned the president's style and decried the political tribalism that he believes has become widespread under Trump's leadership. But Flake's comments have left most Republican lawmakers unshakeable.
"I think that a politician who complains about another very little fact," said Senator Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.), a former Trump critic who became the only one in the world. one of the most enthusiastic allies of the president.
Flake said that kissing Trump after his victory in 2016 would have been the "way of reelection, but I could not do it". He added, "Whether I do something or not do something by my opposition to some of his policies and some of his behaviors. . . I just can not do that.
The senator said he was not excluded from running against Trump in 2020.
"I know where New Hampshire is. I've been there a few times, "said Flake with a mocking laugh, naming a crucial state of early appointment.
Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Another Trump critic who is retiring, expressed his concerns about his firm support for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
"I never thought I would see the day when the White House would be at the center of the Saudi Crown Prince's concerns," Corker tweeted in response to a statement made by Trump last month.
Corker was one of 14 Republican senators to vote in favor of a resolution to end US military support for the Saudi government's war in Yemen. He added that he was working on a potential proxy measure to express "what we would like to see happen to Saudi Arabia in general". He also called on the administration to consider tougher sanctions against the kingdom.
The Tennessee senator who accused Trump last year In a brief interview, he said that he did not want to sue the president and pointed out that he had also worked with the administration. "By the way, I do not like being critical," Corker said.
The departures of Flake and Corker are among the many factors that will change the dynamics of the Senate next year. Midway through, the Republicans increased their majority on the Democrats from 53 to 47, thanks to the victories of Trump supporters, such as Kevin Cramer in North Dakota and Josh Hawley in Missouri.
Corker's representative in the Senate will be representative Marsha Blackburn, a trusted ally of Trump who launched his campaign with a video declaring "politically incorrect and proud to be". Senator James E. Risch (R-Idaho), who supported Trump, is Corker at the helm of the External Relations Committee.
The exit of Flake will remove an obstacle for Senate Republican leaders in the Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for treating the president's candidates for the federal judiciary. The new chairman of the committee should be Graham.
The electoral contours of 2020 should encourage Republican senators to maintain friendly relations with the president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) And Senior Member of Parliament Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.) Must be re-elected in states where the President is one of the first favorites .
The risks of crossing Trump are clearly visible. He aggressively targeted his detractors of the GOP. "I removed it. I am very proud of that. I've done an excellent service to the country, "Trump said about Flake the day after the elections. He made fun of Corker on Twitter under the name of "Liddle's Bob Corker".
The threat of a key challenger backed by Trump also threatens Republicans inclined to call the president publicly. Representative Mark Sanford (RS.C.) experienced this in June when he was defeated by Katie Arrington, a Trump-approved state legislator, hours before polls closed. .
Sanford spends his last days in Congress warning that, if the GOP was ceded to Trump, the party would remain long within the minority of the House, abandoning its principles to please a base of voters deeply. attached to the president.
When Arrington lost at the expense of Democrat Joe Cunningham in the general election, Sanford quickly drew attention to the upheavals of his conservative district. He described it as an "alarm bell" for the GOP and urged Republicans to withdraw from Trump in an editorial published in the New York Times, published the week following the elections.
"I continue to believe that the Trump phenomenon is a temporary phenomenon," said Sanford during an interview. But he added, "I would not have guessed it would last that long."
When he asked him what he had done in confronting Trump, Sanford replied, "Not that much: I lost." Like Flake, he felt it was wise to do so given his behavior and its policy.
"I am convinced that the party where he is taking our party is going in a dangerous direction, both in terms of electoral consequences, as we have seen mid-way through, and, more importantly, with regard to the conservative movement, "said Sanford.
The Democrats got at least 39 seats in the House at the mid-point, Republican candidates getting ill-drawn in many purple districts where the unpopularity of the president and the GOP brand dragged them on.
The Republicans who won will represent mostly conservative districts where the president is well regarded. Republicans in the House have chosen Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Who is friends with Trump, to lead them next year.
Even before the elections, the ranks of House Republicans criticizing Trump had begun to dissipate. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, one of the most virulent critics of the Republican Republic for Trump, resigned from his post earlier this year.
Some Republican activists who do not like Trump have expressed frustration at the persistence of his leadership within the party. Fergus Cullen, a former president of the Republican Party of New Hampshire, said he hoped Trump's critics like him would be on the bright side of the story, but that "the story goes very slowly. currently".
It is unclear who, if any, will become the head of the Republican resistance to Trump next year on Capitol Hill. Meaning. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) And Tim Scott (R-S.C.) And Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) Spoke after disagreeing with the President. Flake said he thought elected Senator Mitt Romney of Utah would be ready to call the president when he thought he was wrong.
But Romney has not been so harshly critical of Trump, and the political risks of developing the reputation of challenging the president are as serious as ever.
"I still hope the party will come to my senses someday, but I do not see it coming in the short term," Cullen said.