McConnell will ask Cornyn to stay on GOP leadership team

McConnell will ask Cornyn to stay on GOP leadership team
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away The malware election: Returning to paper ballots only way to prevent hacking First House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons MORE (R-Ky.) will ask John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (Texas), the current Senate GOP whip, to stay on his leadership team next year.

Cornyn, 66, is scheduled to step down from his post as the No. 2 Senate Republican leader at the end of 2018 because of term limits.

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His future was uncertain because there was no obvious open leadership position for him to pursue after the election.

McConnell, however, wants to keep Cornyn in the leadership fold.

“I’m going to ask him to stay at the leadership table and continue to play a leadership role. He’s been an invaluable whip and will continue to be that way in the next Congress,” McConnell told The Hill in an interview.

This will give Cornyn a platform to run for Senate majority leader — or minority leader — when McConnell, 76, retires some day from the top-ranking job.

Cornyn has played an important role rounding up votes for key bills, such as the 2017 tax cut, which Republicans are making the centerpiece of their 2018 election strategy.

McConnell hasn’t decided what formal title to give Cornyn, if any, but he wants him at the table when big decisions are under discussion.

“I have some people that sit at the leadership table. He would join that group,” McConnell said.

Four senators currently attend GOP leadership meetings as counselors to the majority leader: Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Shaken Portman urges support for 'red flag' laws after Ohio shooting MORE (R-Ohio), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerThe 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow GOP senator introduces bill banning 'addictive' social media features MORE (R-Neb.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction On The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-W.Va.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Trump reportedly weighing executive action on alleged tech bias | WH to convene summit on online extremism | Federal agencies banned from buying Huawei equipment | Lawmakers jump start privacy talks The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill MORE (R-Miss.).

Cornyn told The Hill Wednesday that he has talked with McConnell about staying on in leadership.

“I’ve had a conversation about that and frequently he designates members to sit at the table and continue to offer them and the other leadership, elected leadership, advice,” he said. “I look forward to that if he makes that offer.”

“We’ve had discussions about that and I’m optimistic that would be the case,” he added.

Cornyn helped save the tax-reform package last year by negotiating a deal with Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation FBI Agents Association calls on Congress to make 'domestic terrorism' a federal crime Senators renew request for domestic threats documents from FBI, DOJ after shootings MORE (R-Wis.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesThe 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal 5 takeaways from combative Democratic debate GOP senator introduces resolution to formally condemn socialism MORE (R-Mont.), two hold-outs, to increase tax relief for so-called pass-through businesses.

Without that agreement, the overall size of the bill may have been reduced by $350 billion to $400 billion.

Cornyn also earned a lot of good will from colleagues by serving two terms as National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, a grueling job, before becoming the Senate Republican whip. 

Members of Senate GOP leadership are term-limited and must step down at the end of the year, but McConnell is not subject to term limits under the rules. He plans to run for another term as Senate GOP leader and for reelection in 2020.

McConnell will surpass former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) as the longest serving Senate Republican leader on June 12.

The lack of an obvious position for Cornyn next year had stirred speculation about his future.
Cornyn says he would like to succeed McConnell as leader when he decides to retire.

“I haven’t made it a secret that I would be interested in that and he knows that,” he said, referring to McConnell and his job. “But there’s no timetable.”

Cornyn said he does not plan to run for one of the other elected leadership positions or to ask for special permission to leapfrog a more senior colleague to become chairman of a powerful committee.

“I hope to continue to contribute to the conference, but I don’t expect to get any particular favoritism when it comes to the chairmanship position,” he said.

He says committee leadership should be decided as it has been in the past, mainly on the basis of seniority.

Cornyn is now the fourth-ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, sixth-ranking member of the Finance Committee and the eighth-ranking member of the Intelligence panel.

Three other members of McConnell’s team face term limits in their current posts: Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (S.D.), Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoIf Democrats want gun control, they must first concede defeat Conway: Republican concerns about gun reform 'all reconcilable' Five proposals Congress is eyeing after mass shootings MORE (Wyo.) and GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown MORE (Mo.).

They are each expected to move up a slot on the leadership ladder without any opposition.

Thune is expected to take Cornyn’s job as whip, Barrasso is expected to slide into Thune’s role as conference chairman and Blunt will take over Barrasso’s job as policy committee chair.

Republican senators say they do not expect any of those promotions to be contested.

Nor do they expect Barrasso or Blunt to attempt to challenge Thune for the whip’s job.

This domino chain will leave only one job open in the elected leadership: Senate Republican vice chairman.

Fischer and Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstErnst town hall in Iowa gets contentious over guns Air Force probe finds no corroboration of sexual assault allegations against Trump pick Gun control activists set to flex muscle in battle for Senate MORE (R-Iowa) are both running for the position, the only leadership race to emerge so far. 

If either Fischer or Ernst are elected to the post, one of them would be the first woman to hold an elected post in the Senate GOP leadership since Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Senate braces for brawl over Trump's spy chief Congress kicks bipartisan energy innovation into higher gear MORE (R-Alaska) served as vice chairman of the Senate GOP conference from 2009 to 2010. 
Both Fischer and Ernst have contacted colleagues to express their interest.

“They’ve actively thrown their hat in the ring,” said one GOP senator.

Spokespeople for Fischer and Ernst did not respond to requests for comment.

Johnson, who narrowly lost a race to Blunt in 2011 to become GOP conference vice chairman, said he’s not interested in running for it again.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerPoll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he’s not interested in running for another leadership position as he faces reelection in a state that voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe exhaustion of Democrats' anti-Trump delusions Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado Soft levels of support mark this year's Democratic primary MORE in 2016.

“I am going to be focused on 2020,” Gardner said.

Of course what is expected to be an orderly process of succession could be upended if Republicans lose control the majority.
If Democrats re-capture the Senate, there’s no guarantee that McConnell would stay on as leader or that other members of his team wouldn’t face challenges from within the GOP conference.