“I’ve made no secret of my intentions,” Cornyn poised to launch bid to succeed McConnell as Senate GOP leader

“I’ve made no secret of my intentions,” Cornyn poised to launch bid to succeed McConnell as Senate GOP leader
2 months 3 weeks 6 hours ago Wednesday, February 28 2024 Feb 28, 2024 February 28, 2024 3:17 PM February 28, 2024 in News - AP National
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Minority Leader, speaks with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Monday, January 23, 2023. Credit: Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via REUTERS

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WASHINGTON — This could be John Cornyn’s moment.

After years serving among the top — but not the very top — of Senate Republican leadership, Texas’ senior senator has a chance at the job he has long wanted: Senate Republican leader. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his plans to retire from the post Wednesday after 17 years leading his party.

Cornyn hasn’t formally announced that he’ll run for the post, but he has frequently hinted at his desire to succeed McConnell. When asked about his plans Wednesday, Cornyn said: “I think today is about Mitch McConnell, but I've made no secret of my intentions.”

When asked when he thinks he would announce a run, Cornyn merely grinned.

McConnell is the longest-serving Senate leader of either party in American history, leaving an indelible mark on the institution and the federal judiciary. He will finish out his term as leader this year then serve as a rank-and-file senator until the end of his term in 2027.

Cornyn has been a loyal number two to McConnell’s leadership. He served as Republican whip from 2013 to 2019 and has built strong ties across the conference with his fundraising prowess. Cornyn remains a close McConnell lieutenant after being term limited out of being whip.

Two other senators have emerged as potential contenders for the job. The current Republican whip, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, is also a likely contender. Senate Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso of Wyoming has also shown interest in the past. Neither said Wednesday if they would run.

“There'll be plenty of time” to discuss succession, Thune said. “Today we just want to reflect on [McConnell’s] service and honor him for that. And then we'll go from there.”

Texas’ junior senator Ted Cruz also held back on Wednesday when asked if he would back Cornyn, should he make a bid.

“Oh, there'll be plenty of time to assess those questions,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

In a statement, he said: “I suspect a number of my colleagues are interested in the job, and I look forward to seeing whom the conference selects as the next leader as we hopefully enter the majority this November."

McConnell’s succession became the talk of Washington last year after he froze on camera twice and suffered a fall that kept him out of the Capitol for nearly six weeks. But Cornyn has previously refused to speculate or formally position himself for the job.

McConnell’s control over his party has gradually fractured as Republicans shifted increasingly to the right since Donald Trump’s presidency. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida ran against McConnell for leader in November 2022 — the first time McConnell was challenged for the job. Cruz was a vocal backer of Scott’s bid, which put him at odds with Cornyn as he criticized McConnell for failing to capture the Senate from Democratic control in that year’s midterm elections. Cruz voted to oust McConnell in a closed-door conference meeting that year.

Cruz again called for McConnell to step down earlier this month in response to a failed bipartisan border security and foreign aid bill that Cruz opposed. The bill was a top priority for McConnell until Trump turned on the bill.

“I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults, misunderstanding politics is not one of them,” McConnell said in his speech announcing his retirement.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/28/texas-john-cornyn-mitch-mcconnell/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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