Senator Cornyn of Texas announces his candidacy for the Republican Party as the battle to succeed McConnell begins

(J Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Senator Cornyn of Texas announces his candidacy for the Republican Party as the battle to succeed McConnell begins


February 29, 2024

Texas Sen. John Cornyn has told his colleagues he plans to run for Senate Republican leadership. This makes him the first senator to announce a campaign after Senator Mitch McConnell said he will leave office in November.

Cornyn, who served as McConnell’s number one. 2 in leadership before being removed from office five years ago, citing his experience in that role in a statement to fellow senators Thursday announcing his candidacy. But he also tries to distinguish himself from McConnell by saying, “I believe the Senate is broken, that’s not news to anyone.

I have learned through experience what works in the Senate and what doesn’t,” Cornyn said. And I am confident that Senate Republicans can restore our institution to the essential role it plays in our constitutional republic.

There has long been speculation that Cornyn, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the three Johns, would vie to replace McConnell (R-Ky.) if and when McConnell were to resign. But the longtime leadership surprises Wednesday by announcing that he will no longer run for Republican leadership after the November election kicked off the campaign earlier than expected, nearly nine months before Republican senators are expected to meet and choosing a new leader behind closed doors.

Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general who was first elected to the Senate in 2002, is a prominent member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a popular member of the GOP conference who is seen as a steady hand. He has managed to bridge some of the deep divisions in the caucus in recent years, while also occasionally negotiating with Democrats, as he did on bipartisan gun legislation in 2022.

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He is also a prolific fundraiser for the party, having already raised a total of $13 million for incumbents, the Senate campaign arm and for Republican nominees in the Senate in the 2024 cycle.

In his statement, Cornyn said he believes he has 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.

Cornyn said he would work to improve communication, try to manage spending bills individually and make an effort to involve every member in decisions. That’s in response to frequent complaints from some senators about the massive year-end spending and McConnell’s top-down leadership approach.

Both Thune, the current No. 2 Republican, and Barrasso, the Senate GOP conference chairman, left the door open for a run after McConnell’s announcement. Neither has officially announced a campaign for the job.

Thune told reporters that McConnell’s departure leaves big shoes to fill, but now is the time to reflect on his service and honor him for it. And then good


go from there. Following Cornyn’s announcement, a spokesperson for Thune said the senator is reaching out to colleagues to discuss the future of the Senate Republican Conference and what they would like to see in their next leader, but that he plans to leave those conversations to keep private.

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Barrasso said Wednesday that he is focused on the November elections and winning a majority in the Senate. In terms of leadership decisions, I’m going to talk to conference members, hear what they have to say, listen to them in terms of what direction they want to take.

Much of the leadership race in the coming months will likely take place through phone calls, one-on-one meetings and private meetings. Unlike the House of Representatives, where both parties choose their speaker in an audience and recently messy spectacle, the Senate party leadership is chosen by secret ballot during conference meetings behind closed doors. Cornyn had already been calling and contacting his fellow senators in the hours since McConnell’s announcement.

Republican senators have not chosen a new leader since 2007, when McConnell was elected. That was before most current Republican senators took office.

It is unclear which of the three Johns would have an advantage over their peers.

While Cornyn is well-liked and has drawn attention for his fundraising efforts, Thune could have the advantage of being entrenched as McConnell’s current deputy. Barrasso has been courted the furthest right of the three, becoming the first of them to endorse the former president


Trump for the GOP presidential nomination.

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Thune and Cornyn have criticized Trump in the past, especially since the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by Trump’s supporters. But in the end they all supported him, as it became increasingly likely that he will be the parties’ presidential candidate this year.

There will certainly be other candidates, including from the wing of the party closest to Trump.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott challenged McConnell in 2022 at Trump’s urging, won 10 votes and was able to run again. Scott has said he is focusing on his own re-election bid this year, but appears open to a run after that.

I think there’s a better way to run the Senate, Scott said after McConnell’s announcement. So watch carefully what happens.

On Thursday, Scott said he and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) will soon convene a special conference to discuss the party’s future.

The sudden battle for the next leader comes as McConnell, 82, has faced louder and increasing criticism from some within his party who say it is time for a change in leadership. They have criticized McConnell’s support for massive year-end spending bills and, most recently, his outspoken support for aid to Ukraine. A growing number of members at his conference have opposed the aid, saying it would be better spent at the U.S.-Mexico border or elsewhere in the U.S.

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The Republican leader was also at odds with Trump, who he said was practically and morally responsible for the attack on the Capitol. The two have not spoken since, and Trump regularly bashes him publicly.

McConnell acknowledged his critics in his Senate speech announcing he would step down from that role.

Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment, McConnell said. I have many faults, but misunderstanding politics is not one of them.

He also echoed his critics and called for a new generation to take over.

In the hours after the announcement, once the surprise wore off, many senators praised McConnell’s legacy, including his role in the Senate confirmation of three conservative Supreme Court justices that tilted the court to the right.

Others were more focused on the future.

This is a good development, said Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a frequent McConnell critic. My question is: why wait so long?


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