President-elect Donald Trump will wrestle with a Republican-controlled Senate—one that is swimming with anti-Trump senators and sentiment, which could act as a solid check on his agenda.
Buoyed by early wins in critical swing states, the GOP cemented its control of both houses of Congress for at least the next two years. Just after 1 a.m. EST, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey was declared the winner in Pennsylvania’s contest over Democratic challenger Katie McGinty, cementing the GOP’s majority in the upper chamber.
When Trump takes office in January, he will find the makeup of the Senate adversarial. He will face resistance from members of his party who have opposed his nomination from the start, such as Sens. Ben Sasse and Mike Lee. And Republican control across the legislative and executive branches may not give Trump the same leeway President Obama received when Democrats swept into control of Congress in 2008.
Sasse developed a national reputation for opposing Trump and branding himself as a member of the upper chamber who objected most to the businessman’s candidacy, while Lee made waves by trying to prevent Trump from claiming the nomination at the Republican National Convention.
Indeed, many of the Republican members reelected to the Senate on Tuesday evening have also voiced criticism of Trump. Toomey, whose re-election sealed the deal for the GOP Senate, for weeks refused to say whether he would vote for Trump. But late Tuesday, he confirmed that he did pull the lever for his party’s nominee.
Sen. John McCain, a former presidential nominee who was declared the winner of the Arizona Senate race at 10:46 p.m. EST, has been a vocal critic of Trump’s words and deeds throughout the presidential campaign.
When Trump went on a days-long crusade against the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004, McCain strongly rebuked the nominee. “It is time for Donald Trump to set the example for our country and the future of the Republican Party,” he said in a statement at the time.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who fended off Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy in the Florida Senate race, has repeatedly opposed Trump’s campaign, although he ultimately endorsed the Republican nominee.
Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, said in October that he could no longer support Trump after video emerged of the nominee talking about using his celebrity status to grope women without consent. Portman also won re-election Tuesday evening, easily defeating his Democratic challenger, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
After the tape was released last month, Portman, like many other Republicans, distanced himself from the remarks and said he could “no longer support” Trump as a result, declaring he would vote instead for Mike Pence.
Republicans were able to hang on to critical seats Tuesday night, sending members to the Senate who were less opposed to Trump. In Indiana, Rep. Todd Young defeated Evan Bayh, who represented Indiana in the Senate from 1999 to 2011. Young will replace GOP Sen. Dan Coats, who did not seek re-election. And just after 10 p.m., North Carolina’s seat stayed in the GOP column when Richard Burr defeated his Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who has been largely supportive of Trump, defeated Democrat Jason Kander to retain his seat from the conservative state.
Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate quickly faded after Burr was called as the winner in North Carolina.
There were some glimpses of light for the left, however. Democrats had their first pickup of the night when Rep. Tammy Duckworth defeated Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Nevada, defeated Republican Joe Heck, and will succeed Harry Reid, keeping the seat blue.
Tuesday night’s outcome means that Trump will be taking office with a legislative branch controlled entirely by the party he joined only in the last few years. He joined the GOP in 2009, left in 2011, then joined again in 2012.
Trump’s policy agenda will be at odds with many of the Republicans who have been elected alongside him. Hawks like Rubio and McCain will oppose Trump’s efforts to step back from the NATO alliance and key allies in Asia. Trump also opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has lamented the effects of past trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement—something that most Republican lawmakers have supported for a generation.
Tuesday night’s outcome all but ensures that Merrick Garland will not be a Supreme Court justice. The lame-duck Congress will continue to block Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, in anticipation of a pick by Trump that will likely come during his first weeks in the Oval Office.
Before the end of the year, Congress will also need to reach an agreement on government funding, extending a stop-gap bill that will expire in early December.
Leading the Republican front in the House will be Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been hobbled by dissent within his conference and his own vocal disagreements with Trump. The House Freedom Caucus, a group of Tea Party hardliners, does not have the sway to proactively pass legislation—but it does have the ability to block Trump’s initiatives.
These initiatives will include building a wall across the nation’s southern border, something that Congress would need to approve funding for and which would face stiff Democratic opposition.
“It is now time for all Americans to pull together and realize the challenges we face can only be overcome by working together,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who voted for conservative independent candidate Evan McMullin. “The strength of our nation is in the goodness of its people. As long as that is the case—and I believe that is the case—then America’s best days still lie ahead.”
Trump and his party will control both Capitol Hill and the White House, but deep dissent remains within the Republican Party, which has been dragged kicking and screaming into Trumpism. With so many conservative lawmakers in both houses of Congress opposed to the fundamentals of his ideology, a struggle for the heart of the Republican Party will continue.