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Senate Republicans displaying strong opposition to Trump’s agenda

Senator Rand Paul has pushed back on the prospect that Rudy Giuliani, pictured here as he arrives at Trump Tower in New York, could be nominated as attorney-general.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Donald Trump may be waking to the realization that a major centre of opposition could come from members of his own party: Senate Republicans who are warning that the incoming president's preferred policies and people may not meet with their approval.

"Heaven forbid," Kentucky Senator Rand Paul wrote in an op-ed, on rumours that the president-elect might nominate John Bolton, who was George W. Bush's ambassador to the UN, as secretary of state.

Mr. Bolton championed the Iraq war that both Sen. Paul and (eventually) Mr. Trump opposed. "At a time when Americans thirst for change and new thinking, Bolton is an old hand at failed foreign policy," Mr. Paul warned. "The man is a menace."

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Mr. Paul also pushed back on the prospect that Rudy Giuliani could be nominated as attorney-general, though the word is that the former New York mayor would prefer to be secretary of state.

But Mr. Giuliani's work as a lobbyist for foreign governments and companies, including TransCanada pipelines, could also land him in trouble during any Senate confirmation hearing.

Senators are powerful figures who are wont to assert independence, even against administrations that share their party stripe. With the Republicans holding only a narrow 52-48 lead in the next Congress, any defections could prove fatal. That may be why Trump press spokesman Jason Miller told reporters Wednesday that the transition team planned to take its time in choosing cabinet nominees, with swift confirmation by the Senate a top priority.

The Democrats on Wednesday chose New York Senator Chuck Schumer as minority leader. While Mr. Schumer promised to work with the new administration in areas where they could find joint agreement, "we will go toe to toe against the president-elect whenever our values or the progress we've made is under assault," he warned. The Democratic minority, which has the power of filibuster, will fight to preserve the health-care reforms and environmental initiatives of the outgoing Obama administration.

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And they could well join with Republicans in rejecting Mr. Giuliani, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or anyone else who lacks experience in the Washington swamp that Mr. Trump wants to drain, but must also navigate.

Mr. Trump is pushing back against rumours of disarray within the ranks after ousting Mr. Christie in favour of vice-president-elect Mike Pence as head of the transition team.

"Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions," he tweeted. "I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!"

(This may not be the time to observe that cabinet secretaries are not typically chosen as though they were contestants on Celebrity Apprentice.)

Mr. Trump appears determined to limit his cabinet and senior administration choices to people who were loyal to him during the presidential election campaign – even though that is a very small pool from which to draw – just as he appears intent on implementing much of the agenda he campaigned on.

That agenda includes forging closer ties with Russia, which again could meet with resistance in the Senate. After Mr. Trump and Vladimir Putin chatted amiably by phone this week, Arizona Senator John McCain angrily characterized the Russian leader as a "former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America's allies and attempted to undermine America's elections."

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The 2008 Republican presidential nominee warned that the price of a rapprochment with Russia "would be complicity in Putin and Assad's butchery of the Syrian people. That is an unacceptable price for a great nation."

The problem for both Mr. Trump and the Senate majority is that, although the next president is nominally a Republican, he was never accepted by the Republican establishment or the conservative intelligensia, which includes many experienced figures who would normally serve in a Trump administration.

"In a normal transition to a normal administration there is always disorder," Eliot Cohen, a political scientist who served under Condoleezza Rice when she was Mr. Bush's secretary of state, wrote in the Washington Post.

But "this will probably not be a normal administration. The president-elect is surrounding himself with mediocrities whose chief qualification seems to be unquestioning loyalty." In warning any conservatives who might be tempted to serve in a Trump administration to steer clear, Mr. Cohen cited the choice of Steve Bannon, the media executive who is beloved by the extreme right, as a senior advisor.

If conservatives follow Mr. Cohen's advice, finding qualified candidates willing to serve President Trump could become one of the incoming administration's first and greatest challenges.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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