Late Sunday night, famed investigative journalist Carl Bernstein dropped a list of 22 sitting U.S. Senators – all Republicans – who have all “repeatedly expressed extreme contempt for Trump & his fitness” for office.
Here’s the list.
- Mitt Romney, Utah
- Susan Collins, Maine
- Lisa Murkowski, Alaska
- Marco Rubio, Florida
- Lamar Alexander, Tennessee (outgoing)
- Ben Sasse, Nebraska
Romney was the only senator from Donald Trump’s own party to vote to convict him in his senate trial earlier this year. That was a big deal, amplified by the fact that Romney is a former presidential nominee, which automatically makes him a kind of senior statesman in the Republican Party. He’s also a hugely popular senator in Utah, a state where Trump’s popularity is mostly limited to the state’s strong support for the Republican nominee, whoever that might be. This all puts Romney in a better position than most: Trump can’t mobilize loyal Trumpists in Utah because there are far more pro-Romney folks than pro-Trump folks there, and by virtue of being an elder statesman his opinions are given weight because of his experiences.
Collins and Murkowski have voted against the president just enough to ruffle his feathers, especially on key issues. Collins, in particularly, probably secured her re-election this year by voting against Amy Comey Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court; that may have given Maine voters the reassurance that she really is independent of the president. Murkowski, like Collins, is from a state that values independence, and while her occasional votes against Trump’s interest haven’t worked quite as well as Collins, she remains fairly popular.
Rubio has always been a weak Trump supporter. Trump defeated him for the 2016 presidential nomination and did so in a kind of blistering and bruising way that left a bad taste all around. Rubio is a pragmatic conservative and one who knows that “socialism bad” plays well in his home state of Florida but “Hispanics and Latinos dangerous” does not, so he hasn’t been afraid to call out Trump on occasion, though he remains a reliable vote in the senate.
Alexander, who leaves office this year, is on record saying he thinks Trump is corrupt, but has been a bit of an enabler. So it’s no surprise he’s opposed to Trump in private and supportive in person.
Sasse hasn’t exactly been a thorn in Trump’s side, but in 2016 he refused to support Trump because he said he was “running for King” and says he often thinks about leaving the Republican Party. We know Sasse hates Trump, and while he gave the president a pass on impeachment he has been one of the few Republicans to criticize Trump’s authoritarian leanings (although he also earned deserved scorn for being willing to criticize – but not try to stop – Trump).
The mild surprises
- Rob Portman, Ohio
- John Cornyn, Texas
- Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania
- Rick Scott, Florida
Portman was a speculated candidate in 2016 who backed fellow Buckeye John Kasich. Kasich’s vocal opposition to Trump combined with Portman and Kasich’s long colleagueship, if not friendship, make it not a huge surprise that Portman doesn’t like Trump. He also cast his 2016 vote for Mike Pence, not Trump, because of concerns over Trump’s behavior with women. And then, for four years, he was stalwart Trump supporter in the Senate. Not saying that all Trump’s misdeeds were forgotten or forgiven, but Portman’s criticism of Trump evaporated once he won the White House.
Cornyn earned a reputation for his strong support of Trump, so much so that he ran his 2020 re-election on a platform of how much he loved the president right up until polls showed how tight Texas was and he changed his tune. Cornyn is one of few names on this list to have admitted to his private distrust of the president in public, but he’s not done anything to actual hamper the Trump agenda and, again, he supported it before he opposed it. So.
Toomey announced that Joe Biden had become president-elect once a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed out the last Trump campaign suit in that state. It felt like Toomey had been waiting for the opportunity to chuck Trump aside. Since he’s not running for re-election in 2022, it seems almost certain that Toomey is either eyeing the presidency or a lucrative private sector spot, so he’s trying to play the diplomat. But Toomey hasn’t been an ally to democracy, really, and if he’s privately upset about Trump’s fitness to serve in office, that isn’t coming through in his words.
“As you watch these proceedings in the House, there’s one question that keeps coming up in my mind. And that is: where is the crime?”Sen. Pat Toomey, on the subject of the impeachment of Donald Trump on corruption charges. December 6, 2019.
(If you’re curious, senator, the crime is in here)
Scott is one of many politicians to try and label himself Trump-before-Trump, possibly because he oversaw a for-profit hospital that defrauded Medicare and Medicaid to the tune of some $649 million and then got elected Governor of Florida. He’s also maybe the only senator I’ve ever seen use the claim “I’m not following politics closely right now” as a way to respond to criticism about Trump. It’s hard to imagine Scott publicly calling out the president, but privately? That’s also very hard to imagine. Not impossible, though: the “I’m not following politics closely right now” moment was about the infamous Access Hollywood recording, and he followed it with a pretty strong condemnation.
- Roy Blunt, Missouri
- John Thune, South Dakota
- Mike Braun, Indiana
- Todd Young, Indiana
- Tim Scott, South Carolina
- Charles “Chuck” Grassley, Iowa
- Richard Burr, North Carolina
- Martha McSally, Arizona (outgoing)
- Jerry Moran, Kansas
- Charles “Pat” Roberts, Kansas (outgoing)
- Richard Shelby, Alabama
I think it speaks to how lockstep the party has been with Trump that most of the senators Bernstein named seem like a big surprise. Rather than going through each, let’s look at three biggest surprises.
Blunt is in favor of school prayer, he doesn’t believe in climate change, and he’s frequently come down in favor of the Trump administration instead of U.S. intelligence agencies or decorated military leaders. This all feels like pretty pro-Trump territory, so the idea that Blunt would have any reservations at all is a big deal.
McSally recently lost her re-election bid after serving less than two years in the U.S. Senate. Her bid was all about how much she loves Donald Trump and how great he is. McSally actually originally ran for the Senate in 2018 and lost on a pro-Trump platform, then was named to a vacant seat (that was once John McCain’s, long story), and tried the exact same strategy again to keep that seat and it failed. What gripe could McSally have with Trump besides “Arizona voters don’t love him as much as I do?”
Grassley‘s view on potential corruption or undue influence by the Trump administration is that people should “suck it up and move on.” He also responded to concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 election that “we don’t come to this table hands free,” so the U.S. can’t complain if another country attempted to swing its election (at least, we can’t complain if it tried to swing it for a member of Grassley’s party). Grassley is also a big champion of whistleblowers and their rights except when Trump fired them, because Trump probably fired them for not doing a good job and not because of their whistleblowing activities.
In short, there’s no surprise that so many Republican senators are upset with Trump. Equally, there’s no surprise that so few are willing to take even the most minor, most basic steps towards opposing him. With it certain that Joe Biden has won the 2020 election, you might think that things would change. Biden certainly claimed that they would and that Republicans would see the error of the Trump era. But with Trump mulling a run in 2024, Republicans remained trapped. They are unable to oppose the president they apparently despise because, as WHYY’s Dick Polman wrote in 2018, they are “a party in moral eclipse.”
Photo: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com. Used under license.