Sens. Sasse & Portman Bellwether for GOP on Trump & Russia By Paul Joyce
Ben Sasse (NE) and Rob Portman (OH) are two GOP Senators who have long had reservations about Donald Trump. Senator Sasse disavowed Trump prior to his securing of the nomination, directly addressing Trump supporters via Facebook, refusing to vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton if they were the two nominees. Sasse views Trump as a "megalomaniac strongman” even though nearly 60 percent of Nebraskans voted for him.
Senator Portman ran a savvy campaign in which other GOP Senators in moderate states lost reelection, such as Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. Portman originally supported Trump, but recalled his endorsement after Trump's lewd Access Hollywood comments went public, instead voting for Mike Pence.
Senator Sasse, a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, was one of the first Republicans to speak out against the timing of Comey’s firing, citing the necessity of maintaining public trust in government. Senator Portman was less critical, thanking Comey for his time in office while echoing Sasse’s sentiments regarding trust. Portman requested further explanation from the Trump administration and called for Comey to testify before Congress.
Senator Sasse did not call for a special prosecutor, instead wanting to operate through existing institutions, including the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sasse did release a statement after Robert Mueller was selected, acknowledging his experience with the FBI and his qualifications for the job. Sasse was particularly critical of Trump’s ties to Russia and his sharing of classified information during Trump's infamous meeting with Russian diplomats, citing the danger facing the intelligence community when information sharing takes place outside of the proper means. "It's not helpful that this was with the Russians . . . This is just weird. We and the Russians do not have aligned interests."
Senator Portman was also vocal about sharing classified information, saying that Congress needs to know exactly what information was leaked. Portman was concerned that sharing the classified information provided by Israel could damage the relationship between the two countries. The Senate Intelligence Committee should “fully review the matter and conduct the appropriate oversight.” The ramifications could be disastrous.
Senators Sasse, a future presidential candidate, and Portman, who hails from a key state in presidential elections, have proven they don’t need Trump to be electorally successful. Both are worth watching as a bellwether for the Republican Party as the Russian investigation unfolds. Trump is party leader by name only. Should the party begin to move on, one or both of these Senators may be found among the head of the pack.
Paul Joyce is an M.P.A. candidate at the University of Albany.