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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum No. 2 GOP leader eyes Wednesday of next week for possible votes on witnesses MORE (R-Ky.) will ask John CornynJohn CornynNadler gets under GOP's skin Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Democrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public 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 PortmanCollins walks impeachment tightrope The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial MORE (R-Ohio), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerThe Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment unknowns await returning lawmakers Pressure builds over impeachment impasse in Senate Trump faces pivotal year with Russia on arms control MORE (R-Neb.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoDemocrat Richard Ojeda announces Senate bid after dropping out of presidential race Spending bill to address miners' health care, pensions Manchin warns he'll slow-walk government funding bill until he gets deal on miners legislation MORE (R-W.Va.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — UN calls for probe into alleged Saudi hack of Bezos | Experts see effort to 'silence' Washington Post | Bezos tweets tribute to Khashoggi Senators fret over lack of manpower to build 5G Lawmakers introduce bill to bolster artificial intelligence, quantum computing 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 JohnsonNadler gets under GOP's skin Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Senators opt to drink milk on Senate floor during impeachment trial MORE (R-Wis.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesKoch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says GOP senators introduce resolution to change rules, dismiss impeachment without articles Congress to clash over Trump's war powers 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 ThuneNo. 2 GOP leader eyes Wednesday of next week for possible votes on witnesses Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Republicans take aim at Nadler for saying GOP senators complicit in 'cover-up' MORE (S.D.), Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoWhat to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Democrats' impeachment case lands with a thud with GOP — but real audience is voters Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on MORE (Wyo.) and GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSekulow indicates White House not interested in motion to dismiss impeachment articles Nadler gets under GOP's skin Grassley signs USMCA, sending it to Trump's desk 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 ErnstGrassley signs USMCA, sending it to Trump's desk Progressive group launches campaign targeting vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment Juan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump 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 MurkowskiTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum No. 2 GOP leader eyes Wednesday of next week for possible votes on witnesses Collins walks impeachment tightrope 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 GardnerTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum McConnell keeps press in check as impeachment trial starts Progressive group launches campaign targeting vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment 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 ClintonCollins walks impeachment tightrope Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party Hill.TV's Krystal Ball knocks Clinton's 'mean girl' comments against Sanders 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.