Five Senate Republicans to Watch in 2017

The 115th Congress convened on Tuesday with a lot of familiar faces and some new ones, too. Yesterday, Opportunity Lives brought you “Five House Republicans to Watch in 2017” to better acquaint you with some of the rising stars of the Right in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Today, we want to introduce you to five members of the U.S. Senate who will shape Republican politics — and more importantly, the country — over at least the next two years.

Ben Sasse, Nebraska

In this photo from Oct. 2, 2014, Republican Senate candidate Ben Sasse speaks in Lincoln, Neb. Sasse, a former president at Midland University in Fremont, enjoys backing from national tea party figures as well as Nebraska’s Republican establishment and major farm groups. With so much support and just a month until the election, Sasse has steered clear of mentioning his competitors. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

This university-president-turned-legislator has quickly become a conservative favorite since he entered the Senate in 2015. His respectful but steadfast opposition to President-elect Donald Trump, even as his colleagues grudgingly accepted him as the 2016 GOP nominee, earned him a loyal fan base, especially among young activists who appreciate his Twitter engagement and commitment to conservative principles.

Sasse serves on the Senate banking committee, which oversees U.S. trade policy. As Trump pursues a protectionism agenda through punitive means like tariffs, it’s a safe bet that Sasse will be a vocal opponent to any legislation that would hinder activity of the free market. Given his popularity in his home state of Nebraska (he won his race by 34 points) and his growing support among Republicans across the country, Sasse will have a significant public platform to advance conservatism in the 115th Congress.

Marco Rubio, Florida

In this photo taken Aug. 30, 2016, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks at a primary election party in Kissimmee, Fla. The race for control of the Senate is tearing toward its finale on a last-minute burst of cash from both sides, with a half-dozen top races essentially tied. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

After a decisive re-election victory in November, Rubio returns to the Senate with a mandate from Floridians who appreciate his fiscal and foreign policy strengths, his eloquence and his commitment to local issues affecting their home. Rubio’s brand of conservatism focuses on inclusion and optimism, a useful counter to the political themes surrounding Trump’s ascendance to the White House.

The American-born son of Cuban refugees, Rubio has been an ardent opponent of President Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba, arguing that the administration’s efforts undermine any chance of bringing reform to the island nation as it continues to oppress its own people under a Communist regime. Rubio is likely to push Trump to reverse these actions, citing the concerns of the nearly 2 million Cuban-Americans who were either victims of Castro’s tyranny or are recent descendants of those who escaped.

As a foreign policy expert, Rubio is expected to oppose vociferously any of the Trump Administration’s attempts to develop closer ties to Russia while also arguing for more offensive action against ISIS. And as someone with a passion for tax reform and shaking up higher education bureaucracy, Rubio will be an important voice for opportunity conservatism throughout his six-year entire term.

Lisa Murkowski, Alaska

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, gestures before a public television debate on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, in Anchorage, Alaska. She faces three challengers in Tuesday’s general election. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

This three-term Republican returns to Washington after yet another unconventional victory in her home state of Alaska, and she also resumes her post as the chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee. The responsible extraction of natural resources is the cornerstone of the Alaskan economy, and it provides the most jobs of any industry in the state, as well as 85 percent of their tax revenue.

President Obama’s ideologically motivated assault on domestic energy production kept Alaska in its crosshairs, especially as he used executive fiat to severely curtail the oil and natural gas sectors that drive their economy. Like those living along the Gulf Coast, Alaskans have faced real hardship as a result of his policies as the White House banned drilling in vast swaths of the Arctic Ocean, despite scant evidence of environmental irresponsibility or safety neglect by the Alaskan state government or private industry.

President-elect Donald Trump has already indicated that he will expand the country’s domestic energy industry by removing regulatory barriers to exploration, development and transportation of fuel. Chairwoman Murkowski will be a vital ally for Trump – and more importantly, her own constituents – as the Republican majorities in Congress aim to undo the damage inflicted by the Obama administration on the men and women of America’s energy sector. American consumers, businesses and the nation’s overall competitiveness will all surely benefit from cooperation from Mrs. Murkwoski and Mr. Trump.

Cory Gardner, Colorado

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 13: Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., walks to the Senate Swamp to hold a news conference on therapeutic hemp used to fight seizures for those suffering from intractable epilepsy on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

In 2014, this Colorado Republican was thought to be a long shot for the U.S. Senate. Within two years, he rose to the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Gardner defeated incumbent Democrat Mark Udall by calmly refuting false premises imposed by liberals and the media on Republican policies. His campaign was positive, issues-focused and unshaken by any Democrat attempts to push him off-message. It should serve as the model for Republicans nationwide.

As a result, there are high expectations for Gardner. The 2018 Senate map seems rather favorable for Republicans, offering real chances to expand the GOP majority in 2019 and beyond. Gardner’s leadership is vital to achieving these gains.

The challenge for Gardner will be to lead his colleagues and future Republican Senate candidates by example, even as Democrats lob every possible smear at them. As Republicans repeal and replace Obamacare, Democratic lawmakers and candidates will resort to the same playbook his Senate challenger once did: to claim Republicans want to “destroy” women’s health care in hopes of scaring female voters away from the GOP. Gardner has the most experience refuting such claims, and on this and many other Democratic attacks, his guidance will be key to keeping and growing a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.

Mike Lee, Utah

Senate Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights subcommittee Chairman Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, during the subcommittee's hearing on the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Conservative activists lauded the junior senator from Utah for his opposition to Trump on the floor of the Republican National Convention last summer. But, prior to his demonstration in Cleveland, Lee was a happy warrior for constitutional conservatism — and not just with impassioned speeches on talk radio or on the Senate floor.

Lee has proposed a variety of reforms that would really help solve day-to-day problems of the American people. From improving the country’s inadequate infrastructure to allowing greater flexibility for families, Lee’s policy prescriptions address the real needs of Americans without growing government, raising taxes or limiting freedom. While a few of Lee’s colleagues are known for their fiery public displays opposing the latest “Establishment” plan or Democratic scheme, the senator is more interested in developing solutions that make people’s lives better, because, to him, conservatism is about what works.

As Republicans lead both chambers of Congress and control the White House, there are new opportunities to pass reforms rooted in opportunity conservatism, like Lee’s. His leadership proves that conservatism isn’t a restrictive ideology that seeks to limit what people can do, but instead, empowers them to lead the kind of lives they want to live.

Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.