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John Cornyn announces he’s running for Senate GOP leader

By Matthew Choi, The Texas Tribune

John Cornyn announces he’s running for Senate GOP leader” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn officially announced Thursday he is running to lead the Senate Republican Conference.

“I am asking my Republican colleagues to give me the opportunity to succeed Leader [Mitch] McConnell. I have learned a lot during my time both in and out of Senate leadership,” Cornyn said in a statement. “Throughout my time I’ve built a track record of listening to colleagues and seeking consensus, while leading the fight to stop bad policies that are harmful to our nation and the conservative cause.”

Republicans will elect their leadership for 2025 and 2026 in November after the national general election.

Cornyn’s announcement comes a day after McConnell announced he would not seek another term as Republican leader. McConnell is the longest serving Senate leader of either party. Cornyn is a close McConnell ally and spent six years as the number two Republican from 2013-2019.

It’s expected that Cornyn would continue in McConnell’s tradition of principled pragmatism to pass legislation amid a broader push by conservatives to adhere to strict party purity.

He demonstrated bipartisan chops in negotiating the first major gun safety bill in decades after the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde and the CHIPS and Science Act, meant to help boost the U.S. semiconductor industry in the face of rising competition from China.

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That reputation has already attracted some detractors, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who would not rule out a run against Cornyn in his 2026 Senate primary. Paxton blasted Cornyn for not backing him in his impeachment by the Texas state House and for openly showing concern over Paxton’s legal woes. Cornyn was Texas attorney general from 1999 to 2002.

Paxton called Cornyn an “anti-Trump, anti-gun” senator on social media Wednesday night. He added that Texans “deserve better” because Cornyn “will be focused on his highly competitive primary campaign in 2026.”

Cornyn tersely responded: “Hard to run from prison, Ken,” in a nod at Paxton’s felony indictment for securities fraud and an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of abuse in office.

Despite his criticism from the right, Cornyn is by no means a moderate. He has faithfully voted with his party and advocated conservative causes in the judiciary, on the border and in U.S. interests overseas. He voted with then-President Donald Trump 92% of the time, despite later expressing personal misgivings with Trump’s electability. He endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020 as well as in this year’s primary.

Cornyn was slow to endorse Trump in the primary. He contended that it would be inappropriate to endorse before the Republican nominee was clear, and expressed doubt that Trump would perform well in the general election.

“President Trump’s time has passed him by and I think what’s the most important thing to me is we have a candidate who can actually win,” Cornyn said last May.

Cornyn endorsed Trump after his New Hampshire primary win. Trump is widely popular among Texas Republicans. Cornyn told reporters Thursday that he had spoken with Trump about his intention to run for leader. He did not say if Trump would endorse him and said the topic didn’t come up. Cornyn said the race was between Republican senators and that he was not seeking endorsements from outside the chamber.

Cornyn said he and Trump had a “good relationship based on a shared desire to fix what’s broken in this country.”

But Trump is also a backer of Paxton — which could complicate things for Cornyn given his public feuding with the Texas official. Paxton’s name has been floated for U.S. attorney general in a second Trump administration. Paxton has repeatedly sued President Joe Biden’s administration and led a lawsuit to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The Supreme Court rejected the case, but Trump never forgot Paxton’s loyalty.

Cornyn said as leader, he would try to unify the disparate factions within the Republican Party, which have recently become a growing challenge to McConnell’s leadership. Speaking with reporters Thursday, Cornyn said the leader “is not a dictator” and “should be more of a facilitator.”

“If you’re going to be in leadership, you’re going to have to do things that, because the membership demands it, maybe is not what you would do as an individual Senator voting on a piece of legislation,” Cornyn said.

In his statement announcing he was running for leader, Cornyn said he thought the Senate is broken but could be fixed.

“I intend to play a major role in fixing it,” Cornyn wrote. “We will improve communication, increase transparency, and ensure inclusion of every Member’s expertise and opinion. … And we will return power back to our members; there will be no more backroom deals or forced votes on bills without adequate time for review, debate, and amendment.”

Cornyn has long made it clear he wants McConnell’s job. He has built strong relationships in the Senate by sharing his prolific fundraising with other Republicans and working across the aisle on major legislative deals.

Cornyn was the top Senate Republican fundraiser in the 2022 cycle other than McConnell and Sen. Rick Scott, who was then chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Cornyn was also ranked the most effective Republican senator of the 2021-2023 session of Congress by the nonpartisan Center for Effective Lawmaking at Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia.

Two other Republicans with leadership experience, current Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso of Wyoming, have also hinted interest in the job.

Cornyn was term-limited out of being Republican whip but has remained close to Republican leadership. He and McConnell kept an open line when McConnell suffered numerous health scares last year that amplified talk of the Kentuckian’s succession.

Sejal Govindarao contributed reporting.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/29/john-cornyn-senate-leader-mcconnell/.

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