Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2014.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters

GOP skeptics fall in line to support Trump’s State nominee

During his latest Sunday show appearance, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos yesterday he has the utmost confidence in members of Donald Trump’s cabinet. The host quickly followed up with a good question.

“You say you have utmost confidence in his team,” Stephanopoulos noted. “Do you have utmost confidence in President Trump?” McCain replied, “I do not know, George. I do not know, because he has made so many comments that are contradictory.”

The exchange was largely overlooked, but it’s worth appreciating the circumstances: the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee was asked whether he has confidence in his own party’s sitting president. Twice, the senator said he didn’t know. It’s been quite a while since Americans were confronted with such a scenario.

But as striking as this moment was, McCain nevertheless said he’ll vote to confirm former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for Secretary of State. Soon after, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement he’ll do the same.

Earlier this month, after Trump tapped Russia’s top American ally to be the country’s chief diplomat, McCain was asked whether there was a “realistic scenario” in which he’d vote for Tillerson’s confirmation. “Sure,” the Arizona Republican replied at the time. “There’s also a realistic scenario that pigs fly.”

And what of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the last undecided Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? The Washington Post reports he’s no longer undecided.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will vote for President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, he announced Monday, resolving the final major question surrounding Rex Tillerson’s bid to be confirmed as the nation’s top diplomat. […]

“Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy,” Rubio said in a lengthy statement posted on Facebook. “Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate.”
I’m not sure that explanation makes sense – waiting for a qualified nominee is better for the nation’s interests in the long term than rushing through an unqualified nominee – but Rubio is falling in line, as partisans usually do, and just as Rubio’s critics predicted he’d do.

By way of an explanation, McCain said, “Listen, this wasn’t an easy call, but I believe when there’s doubt, the incoming president gets the benefit of the doubt.”

That’s probably worse than Rubio’s anti-delay rationale. Trump was elected in part thanks to an illegal espionage operation launched by Russia; Trump has gone to almost comical lengths to defend and support Vladimir Putin; Tillerson is Russia’s top U.S. ally; and members of Trump’s team are facing an ongoing U.S. counterintelligence investigation related to their interactions with Russian officials.

It’s against this backdrop that McCain, who doesn’t know if he has confidence in the new president to do his job, is prepared to give the new president the benefit of the doubt when choosing the next Secretary of State.

Trump may be the most unpopular new president since the dawn of modern polling, but congressional Republicans are congressional Republicans, and for now, they’re prepared to do as they’re told.