Corker to retire after 2018 – Politico


Bob Corker is pictured. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, faced a potential primary challenge in 2018. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman faced a possible primary challenge.

09/26/2017 03:53 PM EDT

Updated 09/26/2017 04:36 PM EDT


Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker will retire from the Senate after two terms, scrambling next year’s election map and causing a seismic change in the Senate’s entrenched committee structure.

The Tennessee senator’s announcement on Tuesday shocked Republicans and the Senate. Though he began mulling retirement earlier this month, most Republicans were convinced he would run again.

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“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms. Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me,” Corker said in a statement.

The 65-year-old senator became the first senator to announce his retirement this cycle, even as octogenarians Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) mull reelection. But Corker has grown frustrated with the Senate’s gridlock and couldn’t bring himself to run, said a person familiar with the situation.

He also would likely have faced a tough primary challenge next year from the right, likely backed by Steve Bannon. The former White House strategist met on Monday night in Alabama with Mark Green, who was mulling jumping into the race to challenge Corker.

The loss of Corker, with his signature Tennessee twang and punchy jokes, will leave a void in the Senate. Corker has won praise from Democrats and Republicans for his leadership on the Foreign Relations panel, and now Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) is in line for the chairmanship. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could conceivably be in consideration as well as the third-ranking member of the panel.

“He says what he thinks, does what he believes is best for Tennesseans, and has helped lead his colleagues on complicated issues,” said Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, Corker’s Tennessee colleague. “His absence will leave a big hole in the United States Senate.”

Corker’s open seat will give Democrats some hope of an upset win, which could potentially be a majority-maker in the narrowly divided Senate. Democrats have been looking for a third seat to compete in, in addition to Nevada and Arizona, and they will be rooting for a very conservative GOP nominee to give them a chance.

“Vulnerable Republican incumbents see the writing on the wall,” said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Corker has made his mark in the Senate as a deal-maker, though he describes himself as conservative and chafes at the “moderate” label. He helped clinch a deal on border security in an ultimately doomed 2013 immigration bill and designed a bill to allow Congress to vote on President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. He also spoke more frequently with Obama administration officials than many other Republicans.

As Trump rose last year in the GOP primaries, Corker quickly entered Trump’s orbit. He counseled the president during the campaign. Trump considered Corker to be his running mate and, later, for secretary of State.

But Corker drew ire from Donald Trump after criticizing the president’s performance in the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia white supremacist protest in August, though he said later his relationship with the White House had been repaired.

“The president has not yet, has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” Corker said then. “And we need for him to be successful. Our nation needs to be successful.”

Alex Isenstadt contributed to this report.

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