GOP senators lukewarm to lawmaker leading FBI

GOP senators lukewarm to lawmaker leading FBI
© Greg Nash

A growing number of GOP senators are signaling the Trump administration should avoid picking a current lawmaker to lead the FBI, even with a top colleague in the running.

Eight contenders, including Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime MORE (R-Texas), interviewed for the position over the weekend, and President Trump could announce his pick as soon as this week.

But some GOP senators — several of whom raised concerns about James Comey's firing — are hinting that a current GOP lawmaker could send the wrong signal about the future of the embattled bureau.

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Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWelcome to ground zero of climate chaos A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate Bipartisan blip: Infrastructure deal is last of its kind without systemic change MORE (R-Maine) — who stressed that she likes Cornyn — said she would prefer Trump nominate former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) or Merrick Garland, former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOur remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 MORE's last Supreme Court nominee, to lead the FBI.

"My own preference would be Mike Rogers, who is a former FBI agent and has been endorsed by the association of FBI agents. ... He also is a former chair of the Intelligence Committee, which I think would be valuable expertise," Collins told reporters on Monday night.

Collins added that Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeEconomy adds just 235K jobs in August as delta hammers growth Lawmakers flooded with calls for help on Afghanistan exit Afghanistan fiasco proves we didn't leave soon enough MORE's (R-Utah) suggestion of Garland was a "brilliant idea."

"Clearly, Judge Garland has the independence and integrity for the job, as well as the background," she added.

Republicans blocked Garland from getting a hearing or a vote last year for his Supreme Court seat. But in addition to Collins and Lee, GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (S.C.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchCongress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 MORE (Utah) have voiced support for him becoming the next FBI director.

Though Garland wasn't included on a leaked list of FBI contenders being considered by Trump, the move would allow the president to fill another court seat on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.) repeatedly demurred when pressed about Cornyn specifically but added that the White House had to pick someone widely viewed by everyone as "beyond reproach" and "loyal to one thing, and that is going to be our nation."

"I think in this particular case they've got to go beyond, beyond expectations and appoint someone who coming in people would know ... this was going to be someone who ran the FBI in a nonpartisan way," Corker added when pressed if that meant ruling out someone like Cornyn or Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.).

He stressed that Trump's nominee needs to "absolutely" be someone who could win over Democrats, adding that a nominee who only got GOP support "would be a huge, huge mistake."

Democrats are already signaling they wouldn't give Cornyn an easy confirmation just because they've worked with him on legislation. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) told CNN over the weekend that "the nominee should be not a partisan politician, not part of either party."

But Republicans could clear an FBI nominee without Democratic support. They have 52 seats in the Senate and would only need 50 — plus Vice President Pence to break a potential tie — to confirm Comey's successor.

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Lobbying world As Biden falters, a two-man race for the 2024 GOP nomination begins to take shape MORE (R-S.C.) told The Washington Post that while “partisan folks” weren’t necessarily out of the running to lead the FBI, “there’s no question that the country seems to be — to find more confidence and credibility in someone who’s probably not involved in partisan politics.”

The trio is the latest group of GOP senators to signal that the Trump administration should focus on finding someone widely viewed as nonpartisan, a move that increasingly means looking outside of Congress.

Graham floated over the weekend that the Trump administration should look within the FBI as it tries to find a successor for Comey.

Graham also called out Cornyn specifically, stressing that while he liked the Texas senator, he didn't think he was currently the right person for the job.

"John Cornyn is a wonderful man. Under normal circumstances, would be a superb choice to be FBI director," he told NBC's "Meet the Press. "But these are not normal circumstances. We've got a chance to reset here as a nation."

But other GOP senators, including Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (Ariz.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime How to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) MORE (N.C.), said Monday that they had no problem with the idea of Cornyn ascending to the FBI role.

Asked if Cornyn’s political history should rule him out, McCain — who is also floating former Bush administration official Fran Townsend — told reporters: “No, I don’t think so. It doesn’t bother me.”

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Manchin-McConnell meet amid new voting rights push Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee MORE (R-S.D.) — who would be poised to succeed Cornyn as whip — noted it was the president’s decision to make, but he’s a “big fan” of the Texas Republican.

“He’s supremely qualified, obviously, from a law enforcement standpoint. He’s got good relationships on both sides of the aisle, ” the No. 3 GOP senator told reporters ahead of a meeting in Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE’s (R-Ky.) office.

Cornyn said in a statement late last week that he was focused on his work in the Senate amid speculation that he could be poised to become the bureau's chief.

He remained tight-lipped on Monday, declining to respond to comments from his colleagues that Trump shouldn’t pick a lawmaker.

"I just made a decision that I'm not really going to talk about all of this. I just think it's not a good posture to be in," he told reporters when pressed for details about his weekend interview.