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 McConnellHouse to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony McCarthy, McConnell say they didn't watch Jan. 6 hearing MORE (R-Ky.) will ask John CornynJohn CornynBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Federal officials abroad are unprotected — in a world of increasing volatility 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 PortmanBiden, Sinema meet as infrastructure talks hit rough patch Feehery: It's time for Senate Republicans to play hardball on infrastructure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Crunch time for bipartisan plan; first Jan. 6 hearing today MORE (R-Ohio), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Lawmakers introduce bill allowing higher ethanol blend in gasoline after ruling Lobbying world MORE (R-Neb.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOfficials warn of cybersecurity vulnerabilities in water systems Graham, Hawley call on Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on US-Mexico border GOP senators urge Biden to keep Trump-era border restrictions MORE (R-W.Va.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHere's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken Commerce office used racial profiling operating as 'rogue' police force: Senate report Rand Paul introducing measure to repeal public transportation mask mandates 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 JohnsonGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines MORE (R-Wis.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSenate committee advances bipartisan energy infrastructure bill  Hillicon Valley: Lina Khan faces major FTC test | Amazon calls for her recusal | Warren taps commodities watchdog to probe Google Senators propose bill to help private sector defend against hackers 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 reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill Senators scramble to save infrastructure deal GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden MORE (S.D.), Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoFormer Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi dies after bicycle accident Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee in tie vote MORE (Wyo.) and GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntEight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division The Hill's Morning Report - Will Schumer back down on his deadline? GOP fumes over Schumer hardball strategy 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 pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund 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 MurkowskiEight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Manchin grills Haaland over Biden oil and gas moratorium The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Crunch time for bipartisan plan; first Jan. 6 hearing today 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 GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms 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 ClintonBiden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote Women's March endorses Nina Turner in first-ever electoral endorsement 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.