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Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls

Republican senators with an eye on running for the White House in 2024 are gearing up to battle against President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenRev. Barber says best way to undercut extremism is with honesty Biden requires international travelers to quarantine upon arrival to US Overnight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 MORE’s Cabinet picks, setting up a debate within the Senate GOP conference over how hard to push back on Biden’s nominees.

While the Senate traditionally gives a new president deference to fill his administration’s senior ranks, the environment has changed after four years of bitter partisan fighting under President TrumpDonald TrumpIran's leader vows 'revenge,' posting an image resembling Trump Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Justice Dept. to probe sudden departure of US attorney in Atlanta after Trump criticism MORE

Four Senate Republicans with potential White House aspirations in 2024 have already signaled their opposition to Biden’s picks, setting the tone for a contentious debate when Biden submits his nominees before what is expected to be a GOP-controlled Senate next year. 

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Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSenate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Senate panel advances Biden Pentagon nominee MORE (R-Ark.) on Wednesday said Alejandro Mayorkas, whom Biden has tapped to head the Department of Homeland Security, “is disqualified” because of controversy over his role in a decision to provide green cards to Chinese and Thai citizens who pledged funds to a Las Vegas casino.

“Alejandro Mayorkas was found by Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFormer Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Amanda Gorman captures national interest after inauguration performance Riding to the rescue on climate, the Biden administration needs powerful partners MORE’s Inspector General to be guilty of selling Green Cards to Chinese nationals on behalf of rich, democratic donors,” Cotton tweeted.

“He is disqualified from leading the Department of Homeland Security,” he added.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2013 that Mayorkas ran into Senate Republican opposition after he was nominated to the No. 2 post at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration because of concerns he provided favored treatment to the Sahara casino in Las Vegas and other companies seeking investment through the EB-5 program. The program provides green cards to foreign investors.  

Mayorkas at the time disputed the allegations and was confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate 54-41 on Dec. 20, 2013. 

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySenate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief Senate Democrats file ethics complaint against Hawley, Cruz over Capitol attack MORE (R-Mo.) on Tuesday took a shot at the list of people Biden announced he would nominate for national security positions in his administration: Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick to serve as secretary of State; Mayorkas; Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee to serve as director of national intelligence; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Jake Sullivan, the nominee to serve as national security adviser; and John KerryJohn KerryKerry promises Europeans Biden will seek to make up time on climate action OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden recommits US to Paris climate accord | Biden nixes Keystone XL permit, halts Arctic refuge leasing | Interior secretary rescinds wilderness protection order before leaving office Biden recommits US to Paris climate accord MORE, the proposed special presidential envoy for climate.

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Hawley slammed them as “a group of corporatists and war enthusiasts — and #BigTech sellouts” on Twitter. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism MORE (R-Ky.), who ran for president in 2016, told Fox Business anchor Neil Cavuto that “on foreign policy, I am very worried about that there will be a big shift, and it’s back to those who believe that we should militarily intervene abroad in a big way.” 

Blinken served as minority staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Biden chaired, in 2002, when the Senate voted to authorize the use of military force against Iraq. Biden was one of 29 Democrats to vote for the resolution. 

Paul said he thinks Blinken is a bad choice to lead the State Department and said he would ask the nominee when he comes before the Senate whether he will apologize for his support of the Iraq War.

Paul said he also wanted to ask Blinken what lessons he learned from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and whether he still believes regime change in the Middle East is a good idea.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLimbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration NRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE (R-Fla.), who also ran for president in 2016, slammed Biden’s Cabinet picks as “polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline.” 

“I support American greatness and I have no interest in returning to the ‘normal’ that left us dependent on China,” he tweeted.    

Republican strategists say Biden’s selections for his Cabinet and other senior administration posts will give ambitious lawmakers such as Cotton, Hawley, Paul and Rubio a chance to define his presidency early.

It will also give them an opportunity to gain attention from Republican voters, activists and donors.

“You are going to have some jockeying for president, no doubt. But you’re also going to have some ideological fault lines where some Republicans are going to look at these nominees and just find them completely unqualified,” said Brian Darling, a GOP strategist and former Senate aide.

“The president gets a lot of deference in his picks, but you’re going to have some that had a record during the Obama years that are unacceptable to Republicans, and the big question is, are there enough Republicans to block the nominees?” he said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February MORE (R-S.C.) took some heat earlier this month when he told reporters during a video conference call that Biden “deserves a Cabinet” and said he was open to a potential compromise on immigration reform.  

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The same day Graham made his comment, Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonCompany appeals rejection of controversial Pebble Mine  McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism Presidential pardons need to go MORE blasted Graham. 

“On the issues that matter, Lindsey Graham immediately ran away from the ideas he claimed to support and said he’d be happy to sell out his voters with an amnesty deal, like within hours of the election,” he said.

Other conservative media heavyweights are lining up against Biden’s Cabinet picks.

Fox News’s Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityMcConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism Almost 7 in 10 oppose Trump pardoning himself: poll Can the GOP break its addiction to show biz? MORE tweeted Wednesday that Biden’s nominees “want reversal of Trump’s ‘America First’ policies.”

Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesGOP operative installed as NSA top lawyer placed on administrative leave: reports Pelosi raises alarm after Trump loyalist installed as top NSA lawyer NSA places former GOP political operative in top lawyer position after Pentagon chief's reported order MORE (R-Calif.), a Trump ally and the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, in a Fox News interview said that Biden’s nominees “likely were involved in the dirty dossier,” referring to the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer that led to a special counsel investigation of allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. 

While few Senate Republicans are likely to go as far as Nunes in trying to link Biden’s picks to the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016 and the special counsel investigation that followed, the bitter fumes of those battles will still be in the air when the Senate takes up the nominees next year.   

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“There is no question that the race is on to seize the Republican Party mantle should Trump not run in 2024,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, who called Biden’s first round of Cabinet selections “Obama 2.0.”

He said taking “a whack” at Biden’s nominees is a way “to consolidate the party’s base.”

O’Connell said Hawley, Cotton, Paul, Rubio and other 2024 hopefuls could influence the broader Senate Republican conference if they launch an all-out resistance effort against Biden’s picks.  

“There is a lot of room for these folks to define Biden because Biden has never defined himself other than he rode shotgun with Barack Obama,” he said. 

“I think a lot of these Republicans will want to be on the record singing from the same hymn book when it comes to the sort of globalist foreign policy that Biden is talking about,” he added.

Biden, for example, plans to reenter the United States into the Paris climate agreement and this week named former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the principal architects of that accord, as his special presidential envoy for climate.

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Biden’s picks are likely to get ‘yes’ votes from a handful of GOP senators, such as moderate Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFor Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE (Maine), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyFor Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief GOP senator calls Biden's COVID-19 relief plan a 'non-starter' MORE (Utah) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiFor Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' MORE (Alaska).

But the major question is whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (R-Ky.) will schedule votes on nominees who can win support from only a fraction of his conference. McConnell has made it a policy not to put legislation on the Senate floor that divides is conference. 

Will the GOP leader adopt a different policy for nominees and judicial picks? So far McConnell has stayed largely quiet on the subject.

Republicans will control at least 50 Senate seats in 2021 and are favored to be in the majority next year. Democrats, however, would flip the Senate if they win two runoff races in Georgia scheduled for Jan. 5.  

The last time the Senate and White House were controlled by different parties at the start of a new president’s term was 1989, when George H.W. Bush assumed the presidency after Ronald Reagan’s eight-year tenure in the White House. 

Democrats also controlled the Senate from June 2001 to November 2002, during George W. Bush’s first term, after the late Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) switched parties five months into the president's time in office.