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 McConnellGOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Republicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump Overnight Energy: Students around globe demand climate action | EPA bans consumer sales of deadly chemical in paint strippers | Green New Deal set for Senate vote MORE (R-Ky.) will ask John CornynJohn CornynCornyn shrugs off Trump criticism of 'SNL' GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Julian Castro hints at brother Joaquin's Senate run 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.

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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 moves to rein in president's emergency powers The Hill's 12:30 Report: O'Rourke jumps into 2020 fray Trump vows veto ahead of Senate vote on emergency declaration MORE (R-Wis.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesRepublicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump Overnight Defense: Senate breaks with Trump on Yemen war | Shanahan hit with ethics complaint over Boeing ties | Pentagon rolls out order to implement transgender ban | Dem chair throws cold water on Space Force budget Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi-led war in Yemen 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 ThuneSenators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law GOP's Tillis comes under pressure for taking on Trump We need a national privacy law that respects the First Amendment MORE (S.D.), Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoThis week: Trump set for Senate setback on emergency declaration We should end tax giveaways to electric vehicle owners Overnight Energy: McConnell plans Green New Deal vote before August recess | EPA official grilled over enforcement numbers | Green group challenges Trump over Utah pipelines MORE (Wyo.) and GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senator disinvited to Republican event over vote against Trump's emergency declaration Trump keeps tight grip on GOP Dems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds 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 ErnstSenate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court GOP senators introduce bill to rein in president's emergency powers On The Money: Wells Fargo chief gets grilling | GOP, Pence discuss plan to defeat Dem emergency resolution | House chair sees '50-50' chance of passing Dem budget | Trump faces pressure over Boeing 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 MurkowskiJuan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration Overnight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget 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 GardnerOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' Trump keeps tight grip on GOP 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 ClintonOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all O'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left Dem strategist says South Carolina will be first 'real test' for O'Rourke 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.