Sen. Ben Sasse spent months sounding the alarm on Donald Trump’s presidential bid, but Wednesday the Nebraska Republican switched gears, congratulating the New York businessman on becoming president-elect and vowing to hold him accountable for conservative promises he made on the campaign trail.
Mr. Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton has changed the political contours of Washington overnight and is forcing the most vocal anti-Trump voices within the Republican ranks — including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona — to adjust to the post-election reality that Mr. Trump is poised to be the 45th president of the United States, as well as the leader of the GOP.
“Starting today, I will do everything in my power to hold the President to his promises: to fight for an ethics reform package that upends cronyism and enacts term limits; to lead on repealing and replacing Obamacare; and to nominate judges who reject law-making by unelected courts,” Mr. Sasse said in a statement.
Mr. Graham, who ran against Mr. Trump in the GOP presidential primary and remained a vocal critic of the real estate magnate, said he is ready to put the election behind him and get on with the business of running the country.
“We have wars to win, threats to be dealt with, and a stagnant economy which must be revived,” Mr. Graham said in a statement posted on Twitter shortly after Mr. Trump claimed victory.
“I believe there is consensus to be had on keeping trade free but fairer, rebuilding our military, restoring our standing in the world, reforming our tax code, replacing Obamacare with an alternative that empowers patients while reining in costs, and confirming conservative justices to the Supreme Court,” he said.
Several Republican broke with Mr. Trump over the course of the 2016 presidential election — including senators running in some of the most competitive races across the country.
Sen. John McCain, for instance, stuck with Mr. Trump even after the brash billionaire mocked the Vietnam veteran’s military service, but split with him toward the tail end of the race over lewd remarks he made about women in a 2005 video.
“Congratulations to President-Elect Donald Trump,” Mr. McCain said in a statement Wednesday after capturing a sixth term in Senate representing Arizona. “As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will work with him to address the national security challenges facing our nation and to ensure that the men and women serving in the military have the support they deserve.”
Mr. Sasse, Mr. Graham and Mr. Flake, meanwhile, are among the lawmakers who were not on the ballot and are likely going to have to defend their opposition of Mr. Trump over the coming years as they gear up for their next re-election bid.
Mr. Sasse and Mr. Graham are eligible for another term in 2020, and Mr. Flake, who distanced himself from Mr. Trump part over his attacks against Mr. McCain, could run again in 2018.
“If my Party’s nominee does not prevail and Hillary Clinton is elected, I will assume the best and look for the good, knowing that some of the toughest issues we face as a country are best tackled with divided government, where both parties share the political risk, hold hands and jump together,” Mr. Flake said in a social medium post Tuesday that made no mention of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Sasse, meanwhile, became the first consistent anti-Trump voice in the Senate months before Mr. Trump secured the GOP presidential nomination.
“Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation,” Mr. Sasse said in a February Facebook post. “Much like President Obama, he displays essentially no understanding of the fact that, in the American system, we have a constitutional system of checks and balances, with three separate but co-equal branches of government. And the task of public officials is to be public “servants.” The law is king, and the people are boss.”
“But have you noticed how Mr. Trump uses the word “Reign” — like he thinks he’s running for King? It’s creepy, actually. Nebraskans are not looking for a king. We yearn instead for the recovery of a Constitutional Republic,” he wrote.