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Having spent eight years accusing their Democratic colleagues of enabling a runaway president, congressional Republicans face a question: Will they fall in line when President Trump charts a course they oppose?

Congress has significant political and institutional power to shape domestic policy, but it will also seek to impact foreign policy, as it did during President Obama’s administration. Trump’s campaign dovetailed with traditional GOP views in some areas, such as bolstering the military, so Republicans and Trump need not always be at odds. In others cases — his apparent desire for a rapprochement with Russia, despite the ongoing aggression in Ukraine; his doubts about the utility of military partnerships with Asia-Pacific allies — they could be on a collision course. If and when that clash happens, the lawmakers will have to contend with a president who has broad power to set foreign policy without congressional approval, reinforced by his popularity in Republican congressional districts.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker hopes to grasp that thorn with a velvet glove. “I think we, as a committee, have a significant opportunity to help shape foreign policy,” Corker, a onetime candidate to serve as secretary of state under Trump, told the Washington Examiner. “I think there has been significant trust built thus far with [Trump’s] team, and I think that’s something that can be built upon and it’s an interesting place to be.”

Careful to reject the idea that Trump would be “deferential” to congressional leaders, Corker suggested that the incoming administration’s relative inexperience in foreign policy — Trump and his closest advisers, such as son-in-law Jared Kushner, come to the White House straight from the business world — will lead them to lean on Congress, if the good relationship continues.

“The administration is very accessible,” he said. “The people who are coming in are, in many ways, people who haven’t been in the foreign policy world … I think once they see that there is a bipartisan effort to really shape our foreign policy in a positive way, I think there’s a chance — because of many people coming in not living in that world in the past — that they will take advantage of that.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., is braced for a more confrontational position, despite his early willingness to praise Trump’s decisions and discuss “defense stuff” with the incoming party leader. “I have a relationship that is based on my election, my re-election from the people of Arizona, and they have trusted me to continue my job,” he told the Washington Examiner. “My colleagues in the Senate have entrusted [to me] the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee. Those are my obligations. And yes, I want to help any incoming president get their job done. But I have no obligation.”

More optimistically, McCain sees the potential for coordinating with the administration, particularly given the confirmation of retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to lead the Defense Department. “I know that we’re going to have a very close working relationship, because we’ve had it for years,” McCain said of Mattis.

The testimony of Trump’s national security team during their confirmation hearings raises the possibility that some of the most likely fights between Congress and Trump will be thrashed out instead within the executive branch. His nominees were unanimous about Russia’s responsibility for the cyberattacks conducted against the Democratic party in the 2016 elections, for instance. Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson, who alarms some Republicans due to his negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his tenure as Exxon Mobil CEO, declared his commitment to NATO and the treaty provision requiring the defense of allies under attack.

If Corker and Trump — or his cabinet — can work together, that would strengthen the lawmakers’ hand; instead of needing a supermajority in Congress to pass laws that block Trump’s foreign policy actions, they could approve his moves and coordinate to pass legislation that reinforced his decisions.

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But what happens if Trump tries to set a policy opposed by most of his party, as Obama did when negotiating the nuclear agreement with Iran? Few lawmakers are comfortable speculating about Trump’s plans, but his interest in working with Putin is the elephant in the room.

“Bush thought he could look into his soul, Obama thought he could hit a reset button — and they quickly found out that Putin’s interests are simply divergent from our interests,” House Foreign Affairs Committee member Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said. “Even [on] Islamic terrorism, they talk about how Putin doesn’t like the Chechens, and that’s true. [Do] we have the same interests on that? Not really. He’s a big supporter of Iran, who is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. … If [Trump] tries to establish better relations, he’ll basically be doing what the last two presidents have tried and failed to do, and I would tell him to proceed with caution when you’re dealing with Vladimir Putin.”

DeSantis’ perspective is particularly relevant, as he is a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus. Best known for pushing John Boehner out of power, HFC formed in reaction to GOP leadership’s putative unwillingness to curb Obama’s use of executive power. They might thus seem primed to restrain Trump, but they also represent some of the House districts where Trump is most popular. And if Trump vetoes a bill that ties his hands, he’ll only need “one-third plus one” of lawmakers in either the House or the Senate to prevent that veto from being overridden, as DeSantis observed.

“It is very difficult to project how things are going to unfold under a Donald Trump administration, because he has never held public office before,” Rep. Mo Brooks, another member of HFC and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview. “We will have to figure out what Donald Trump’s foreign policy is, what parts we agree with and disagree with, how best to achieve the parts we agree with, and how best to block the things that may be unwise — assuming that there are things that Donald Trump wishes to do that we believe are unwise. But right now, it’s all conjecture.”

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