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Sen. John Cornyn announces bid for Senate GOP leader, kicking off race to replace McConnell

Cornyn announces bid for Senate GOP leader
Sen. John Cornyn announces bid for Senate Republican leader 04:36

Washington — Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said Thursday that he is running to become the next GOP leader in the Senate, kicking off the race to replace Sen. Mitch McConnell when he steps down after the November elections.

"I believe the Senate is broken — that is not news to anyone. The good news is that it can be fixed, and I intend to play a major role in fixing it," Cornyn said in a statement. "From experience, I have learned what works in the Senate and what does not, and I am confident Senate Republicans can restore our institution to the essential role it serves in our constitutional republic."

The Texas Republican, 72, was first elected to the Senate in 2002 and served as the No. 3 in GOP leadership as minority whip from 2013 to 2019. He has long been seen as a potential replacement for McConnell, who has held the top job since 2007.

McConnell announced on Wednesday that he would step down as party leader at the end of his term, which expires at the end of the current Congress. Senate Republicans will hold leadership elections after November's general election.

McConnell's decision to step aside opened the door for Cornyn and others to pursue the leadership post after years of waiting in the wings. Cornyn is the first of the potential candidates to throw his hat in the ring, but more are expected to join the race in the coming days and weeks. 

Sen. John Cornyn speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024.
Sen. John Cornyn speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Former President Donald Trump, the clear front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is expected to factor heavily in the contest. Cornyn said he spoke to Trump about his bid on Wednesday.

"I've had a couple of good conversations with him, most recently yesterday. I told him my intention, told him that I had worked with him when I was the majority whip for four years," he told reporters on Capitol Hill. "And worked very successfully, in my opinion, with him and his team, and I look forward to doing that again."

Asked if Trump supported his candidacy, Cornyn said, "He wanted to know who was interested, who was running, so we didn't have that conversation." 

Trump supported an unsuccessful push by some conservative senators to oust McConnell after the 2022 midterm elections and replace him with GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida. Scott got just 10 votes, raising doubts about Trump's influence over Republican senators. However, a victory in November's presidential election would undoubtedly give him more sway over the ensuing leadership race, and Republican senators would be under significant pressure to elevate the president-elect's preferred choice.

Cornyn noted that the vote for Senate party leader "is a vote by senators for the majority leader of the Senate, and so those are the people who I need to be talking to." The GOP leader would be majority leader if Republicans capture the Senate in November, or minority leader if Democrats retain control.

Cornyn criticized Sen. Chuck Schumer, the current Democratic majority leader, for his approach toward legislation. He said he would "let people participate at the committee level, on the floor."

"What we've seen under Senator Schumer is a Senate where deals are cut behind closed doors, and there's no opportunity to debate or amend it because people haven't read 1,000-page bills before they've been put on the floor," he said. "And so there's enormous frustration, because it's not easy to get to the Senate. It's not easy to stay here and people want to be more than just potted plants, or have a binary option to vote yes or no on big ugly bills."

Alan He contributed reporting.

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