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 McConnellSanders is a risk, not a winner Buttigieg sounds alarm after Sanders wins Nevada Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way MORE (R-Ky.) will ask John CornynJohn CornynOcasio-Cortez announces slate of all-female congressional endorsements Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan warnings Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony 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 PortmanWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way GOP senators offering bill to cement business provision in Trump tax law Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law MORE (R-Ohio), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerLoeffler works to gain traction with conservatives amid Collins primary bid Bolton upends Trump impeachment trial  The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment unknowns await returning lawmakers MORE (R-Neb.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoTrump hammers Manchin over impeachment vote Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle Democrat Richard Ojeda announces Senate bid after dropping out of presidential race MORE (R-W.Va.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders repeats with NH primary win, but with narrower victory Senators press NCAA on compensation for college athletes Overnight Defense: Inside Trump's 4B Pentagon budget | Highlights include .4B for Space Force, preview of Air Force One paint job | Senate eyes Wednesday debate on Iran war powers | 109 US troops diagnosed with brain injuries from attack 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 JohnsonWhistleblower retaliation: Stop confusing unlawful attacks with politics Congress looks to strengthen hand in State Department following impeachment Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony MORE (R-Wis.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesAs many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran Senate set for closing arguments on impeachment Schiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line 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 ThuneMcConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (S.D.), Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Senators to meet with Zelensky after impeachment trial GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' MORE (Wyo.) and GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' 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 ErnstOvernight Health Care: Ernst endorses bipartisan bill to lower drug prices | US partnering with drugmakers on coronavirus vaccine | UN chief says virus poses 'enormous' risks Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Progressive group backs Senate candidates in Georgia, Iowa 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 MurkowskiTrump budget includes proposal for US Consulate in Greenland Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in 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 GardnerWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way The Hill's Campaign Report: What to watch for in Nevada 8 people arrested outside Trump rally in Colorado for 'obstructed traffic' 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 ClintonSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' The problem with Trump's Middle East peace plan Trump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury 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.